Community Agriculture Alliance: US House and Senate pass Farm Bill

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After many hours of debate this week, the U.S. House and the Senate agriculture committees passed their respective versions of the 2013 Farm Bill. The versions are more similar than they are different, giving farmers and ranchers hope that a comprehensive farm bill indeed will get passed before the Sept. 30 deadline, which is when the current farm bill is set to expire.

“This provides a great reason for optimism that we will have a new long-term farm bill this year. With the implementation of a new farm bill, farmers and ranchers will be given certainty about the rules and regulations they must follow,” Colorado Farm Bureau President Don Shawcroft said.

The Senate passed Tuesday its version — the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013 — by a 15-5 vote. This version saves $23 billion, eliminates direct payments to farmers, and requires conservation compliance for crop insurance, which will protect the farm safety net and the natural resources that our nation’s farmers and ranchers utilize.

This version also would strengthen crop insurance and expand access to farmers. The bill consolidates 23 existing conservation programs into 13 while maintaining existing tools to protect and conserve land, water and wildlife.

The House passed Wednesday its version — called the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management Act of 2013 — by a 36-10 vote. This version would save nearly $40 billion in mandatory funds, including the immediate sequestration of $6 billion. It also repeals or consolidates more than 100 programs.

The House version, like the Senate’s, also would eliminate direct payments. It also streamlines and reforms commodity policy while giving producers a choice in how best to manage risk and includes the first reforms to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program since the Welfare Reform Act of 1996, saving more than $20 billion.

Both versions left the sugar program as is, with price support and restrictions on imports. The House version restores the insurance programs for livestock producers, which comes as a relief to many producers.

This provision, which expired in 2001, left many ranchers without any form of disaster coverage as they have battled the most severe drought the U.S. has seen in 50 years.

“The restoration of these programs will greatly help Colorado’s ranchers as we continue to struggle with drought and the possibility of selling out,” Shawcroft said.

Both bills provide a solid start for a farm bill that serves America’s farm and ranch families.

“The emphasis on crop insurance as a risk management tool, combined with flexibility that the measures offer through other safety net choices, will go a long way in ensuring a stable agricultural economy over the next few years. These bills represent a good balance among the interested parties, and (the Colorado Farm Bureau) looks forward to working with our senators and members of Congress as these bills progress,” Shawcroft said.

Robyn Sherer is the director of communications for the Colorado Farm Bureau.

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