Farm Bill a priority as 'fiscal cliff' looms
WASHINGTON -- Every five years, Congress reassess the Farm Bill -- a bill that conserves farmland and supports farmers and ranchers. After reviewing the bill, Congress usually passes legislation that sets national agriculture, nutrition, conservation and forest policy.
The bill that was approved in 2008 expired in September, and while a similar bill was passed in the U.S. Senate, it has yet to be passed in the U.S. House.
The Senate bill, which passed with 64 bipartisan votes, would strengthen the crop insurance program and reauthorize critical livestock disaster programs. It is projected to save the federal government $23 billion to $35 billion.
Sen. Amy Klobuchar (DFL-Minn.) said the farm bill is vital to American farmers and ranchers and will be a step toward avoiding a "fiscal cliff."
In a letter to Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), Klobuchar said farmers and ranchers need strong farm policies to ensure they can continue providing the nation with a safe and reliable food source.
"These are some of the hardest workers in the United States, and it is our turn to show them Washington is fighting for rural America," she wrote.
While the Senate bill and the bill currently in the House have much in common, the House bill provides more support to producers of commodities such as wheat, rice, barley and peanuts and is therefore predicted to increase the production of these crops.
The production of corn and soybeans would receive greater support under the Senate bill.
During a teleconference Thursday with Minnesota newspapers, Sen. Al Franken (D-Minn.) said the Farm Bill has been a priority throughout the past year.
"It feels like (the House and the Senate bills) are close enough that all of this can be done in a day or so if push comes to shove. I really feel that we can do it, and it still needs to be part of an end-of-the-year package," he said.
Franken believes the passage of the farm bill is important to people who work in jobs related to agriculture in Minnesota and also to the country's national security.
Both Franken and Klobuchar noted the urgency the bill requires.
"In order for our farmers and ranchers to plan for their future, it is imperative that we provide them with the certainty of a full five-year farm bill," Klobuchar wrote.
Franken said leading farm organizations are in agreement with the need for a new farm bill to support and protect agriculture in the nation.
"Agriculture is one of the few bright spots in our economy," said Tim Gerlach, executive director of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, during the teleconference, "It creates job, reduces trade deficit and frankly, makes our country safer by producing food, feed, fiber and fuel here at home."
One out of every five Minnesota jobs is tied to agriculture and agriculture is the state's second-largest exporting sector. In 2011, Minnesota exported a record-high $6.8 billion in agriculture products, up by 13 percent, according to a recent Minnesota Department of Agriculture press release.
Gerlach stressed that the farm bill affects all citizens, highlighting the ramifications it has not only in agriculture, but in food security and environmental protection.
"Folks, the farm bill makes these things possible. It makes up less than one quarter of 1 percent of the federal budget. It's microscopic, and it's fiscally responsible. It provides critical services, and it comes in under budget. It's a very good model for federal policy," Gerlach said.
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