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Farm Interests Relieved Farm Bill Passed

farm tractor in field (file)
WAMC/Pat Bradley

Congress passed the 2014 Farm Bill last week and President Obama is expected to sign it into law on Friday. While farmers in the region say they did not get all they wanted in the bill, what passed is acceptable.

The farm bill is the nation’s primary food and nutrition policy instrument. It not only provides funding and program guidance for agricultural programs, it distributes money to conservation initiatives and funds SNAP - the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps.  The previous Farm Bill expired in September 2012. Key provisions have been maintained through a series of continuing resolutions. A key stumbling block in the new bill was a proposed Dairy Security Act creating a supply management system. Agrimark Dairy Economist Bob Wellington explains that while the initiative was stripped from the final version, some elements were retained.  “We got parts of the Dairy Security Act. We didn’t get the entire act that farmers had built together. It was a very strong package, as a package. Separately, we had to enhance some of the pieces. So we were able to do that with the help of some of our key legislators. Vermont Senator Pat Leahy was huge in this. And so we were able to enforce some of the other provisions. So I think we ended up with a pretty good package that I think will work as a safety net for dairy farmers in New York and the Northeast. So we’re fairly pleased. Not as pleased as wwe would have been had we gotten the program we originally designed, but farmers can make this work.”

Dairy interests were able to keep a margin insurance plan intact to replace the current Milk Income Loss Contract - or MILC - a safety net for dairy farmers, according to Cornell University Professor of Agricultural Economics Andrew Novakovic.  “We are going to have the margin insurance. And to the extent that the margin insurance is successful, if we have a period when margins are low, which of course could be because the price of milk os low, but it also could be because the price of feed is high, you’ll get a check. So your income should be more level that it would be if you didn’t have these programs. There are some people who think that this program is so attractive, that so many farmers will sign up for it, and they will receive such a degree of benefit, that it actually could stimulate production. Which of course is the whole reason why dairy market stabilization  was proposed in the first place.”

Franklin County Farm Bureau President Kirby Selkirk operates Kurbside Gardens and raises sheep in Chateaugay, NY. He notes that there are provisions to assist direct marketing, organic growers, wool research and apple exporting in the bill.  Selkirk says as he scrutinizes the bill for provisions that impact his operation, he’s relieved that the Farm Bill has finally been passed.   “The farmers take a risk every time they put a seed in hte ground, every time they have a lamb born or a calf born or decide to build a new barn. The farm program is essential in giving them some type of raod map so that they have a reasonable expectation that there’s going to be something there to put that safety net underneath them if things go bad. And it’s more than just me as a farmer or somebody else growing corn and soybeans. It’s about the price of food in the supermarket. It’s essential that we have a farm bill.”

Vermont Senators Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders voted in favor of the bill, as did New York Senator Charles Schumer. New York Senator Kirsten Gillibrand voted against the Farm Bill because of cuts to the SNAP program.  Vermont’s Senator Sanders noted it was a difficult vote due to the $8.6 billion dollars in cuts over ten years to that program.

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