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Ag lawmakers ready for farm bill negotiations

WASHINGTON—Federal farm-state lawmakers say they are happy that final negotiations can begin on a farm bill that funds agriculture programs and food stamps.

Senators passed their $428 billion farm bill 86-11 Thursday, June 28. The bipartisan vote contrasts with the House vote that narrowly passed last week with no Democratic support.

U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., had said that the only good thing about the House bill's passage was that it paved the way for negotiations once the Senate passed its bill. He is the top Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee.

"The things that they have in there are mostly to hassle people that are on SNAP (food stamps)," Peterson said Thursday about the House bill.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., said the Senate's bill would help farmers and ranchers prosper. It contains a safety net for farmers facing financial problems, provides conservation help, supports dairy farmers and provides ways to help protect against diseases.

"The farm bill passed the Senate today with strong bipartisan support and proved that when we work across the aisle on tough problems, we can pass legislation that moves our economy forward," the Senate Agriculture Committee member said Thursday.

Klobuchar praised the food stamp funding in the bill, which does not have major changes from current rules. The House version lost Democratic support mostly because it would require more food stamp recipients to work.

Among provisions in the bill Klobuchar proposed were increased investment in renewable energy, promoting broadband high-speed internet expansion and giving incentives for beginning farmers to obtain land.

U.S. Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., said the farm bill touches nearly every American.

"It provides important stability and predictability to Minnesota farmers, ranchers, rural communities and Indian country while also sustaining tens of thousands of Minnesota jobs," she said.

Smith and her staff held more than 30 meetings to get input leading up to Thursday's vote.

Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., said that he was pleased with the bill.

"We worked to ensure that the Senate farm bill provides strong crop insurance, improves the countercyclical safety net and provides producers with greater access to capital because good farm policy benefits every American, every day with the highest quality, lowest cost food supply in the world," said Hoeven, chairman of the Senate Agriculture Appropriations Committee and member of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

Among Hoeven's provisions that made it into the Senate bill were maintaining a crop insurance program and other risk-management efforts, increasing access to loans for farmers and ranchers, supporting agriculture research, extending sugar policy and helps increase markets for farm products.

Hoeven said the Senate bill also will help American Indians.

"This legislation enhances tribal self-governance for food and agriculture programs, expands grant and research opportunities for tribal colleges and universities and strengthens the partnership between USDA and Indian tribes," Hoeven said. "These improvements will provide important resources to Indian country's producers, who help drive many rural tribal economies."

For U.S. Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., the Senate bill is "a huge boost" to the farm community.

But, she added, work is not done. "The Senate stands ready to work through the summer to get the job done, and I hope the House will remain at work as well to get a bipartisan, commonsense bill signed into law."

Trade disputes with other countries was on Heitkamp's mind. "As our farm economy faces the uncertainty of trade wars and low commodity prices, we must pass a strong farm bill on time to give our farmers and ranchers the boost they need to succeed and keep our rural communities strong."

Like Hoeven and others on the Agriculture Committee, Heitkamp pointed to a number of provisions she got into the bill. They included a measure to help farmers when commodity prices fall "to damaging levels," a program to fund programs that help young and beginning farmers, expansion of crop insurance and new opportunities to sell farm products to other countries.

Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., had a dozen provisions in the Senate legislation.

"Farmers and ranchers want to know that federal policymakers—many of whom don't come from agriculture states like South Dakota—truly understand how difficult their way of life can be," said Thune, a long-time ag committee member. "This bipartisan farm bill not only recognizes the uniqueness of the agriculture community, but it makes a significant investment in the future of farming and ranching, and it does so in a fiscally responsible way—thanks, in part, to several of my proposals that are included in the bill."

Among Thune provisions are those to launch a short-term conservation program farmers may use (a longer program already available), provide more funding to livestock losses due to weather-related diseases and provide tools to monitor drought so better livestock assistance payments are possible.

Don Davis
Don Davis has been the Forum Communications Minnesota Capitol Bureau chief since 2001, covering state government and politics for two dozen newspapers in the state. Don also blogs at Capital Chatter on Areavoices.
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