Senate Ag Committee Okays Farm Bill

The Senate Agriculture Committee approved a $955 billion farm bill on Tuesday, the first step toward completing an overhaul of the nation’s food and farm policy that was derailed last year when the House failed to vote on its version of the bill.

The new bill, which was approved 15 to 5, is expected to save $23 billion over the next 10 years by eliminating or consolidating hundreds of agriculture programs.

“Because the Agriculture Committee worked across party lines to streamline programs, we were able to save tax dollars while investing in initiatives that help boost exports, help family farmers sell locally and spur innovations in new biomanufacturing and bioenergy industries,” said Senator Debbie Stabenow, Democrat of Michigan and chairwoman of the committee.

The full Senate is expected to take up the bill next week. The new farm bill is nearly identical to the legislation passed by the Senate last year. It leaves in place several Depression-era programs like supports for American sugar growers that set prices and limit imports. The bill would also provide relief to the nation’s cattle and poultry producers, who were left unprotected last year during the worst drought in 50 years after several farm programs expired.

The most significant change in the bill is the end of direct payments to farmers and farmland owners, who have traditionally been paid whether they grow crops or not. The program costs about $5 billion a year.

The new farm bill would use the savings from eliminating direct payments to increase financing for crop insurance, a federally subsidized program that pays 62% of the premiums for farmers and covers decreases in crop yields or revenue. Several conservative groups and environmental organizations oppose crop insurance, which they say amounts to income protection, rather than protection against crop losses due to drought or other natural disasters. Senators did, for the first time, add conservation requirements and set income limits for the recipients of crop insurance.

Farm groups praised the approval of the legislation.

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