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Letter to the Editor: New farm bill provides certainty and safety net

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New farm bill provides certainty and safety net

It has been a long, long road for the Agricultural Act of 2014, or what we call the “farm bill.”

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The Farm Bureau is now focused on the rule making and implementation process. This bill will provide a safety net for consumers and farmers for the next five years. It provides much needed bipartisan savings of $23 billion over 10 years, and reform repealing or consolidating nearly 100 programs.

Some headlines have read “farm subsidies continue while nutrition is cut.” Let’s take a closer look.

Crop Insurance

Because direct payments were eliminated, risk management tools like crop insurance were strengthened under the new bill. This public/private partnership ensures that, as farmers and ranchers, we invest in our own risk management for things like weather problems and market failures.

Remember, with crop insurance, we get a bill, not a check. We don’t collect unless a loss has occurred and has been verified. Conservation compliance is now tied to participation for highly erodible soils and wetlands. Minnesota farmers in the prairie-pothole region will also need to comply with a sodbuster provision for crop insurance purposes.

Dairy

Dairy policy was completely overhauled in order to replace a 70-year-old program that was outdated and ineffective. Dairy farmers may now participate in a voluntary margin protection program, which will provide support during catastrophic conditions, as well as prolonged periods of low margins. The livestock industry has battled severe weather conditions for the past two years with no programs available to provide any form of relief. This bill not only reauthorizes livestock disaster assistance on a permanent basis, but also applies it retroactively to 2012 and 2013.

Conservation

Twenty-three duplicate, overlapped conservation programs will be consolidated into 13 programs. This is to better protect our water quality, reduce soil erosion, enhance soil quality and provide habitat for our wildlife. New farmers will see significant improvement in access to credit through programing and loan programs. Specialty crops, including organic, are also addressed in a more impactful manner. This bill also includes research, forestry, trade, energy and rural development.

SNAP

This farm bill is about food: food from farmers, to consumers. This bill also provides a safety net for consumers who need to feed their families.

Let’s understand the facts around the nutrition cuts. Some states, 17 to be exact (not including Minnesota), boost individual food stamp benefits by giving people $1 in federal heating assistance from the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP), which automatically enrolled 850,000 individuals in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). They call it “heat & eat.”

This bill increases the energy assistance to $20.00 before qualifying for SNAP benefits. It will save $8 billion dollars, and reflects a 1 percent cut to the nutrition program.

In closing, when you read “farm subsidies continue while nutrition is cut,” remember that the 10 year spending total in the “farm” portion is $44.4 billion. The commodity program was cut by 31 percent, or $14 billion. Crop insurance programs were strengthened by $6 billion, to $89.8 billion (or 9.4 percent of total cost).

In other words, commodity titles and crop insurance make up about 15 percent of the farm bill’s total cost; and contributed over one half of the total savings.

Meanwhile, the $756 billion nutrition program (79.1 percent of total cost) was only cut by 1 percent, or $8 billion dollars.

Kevin Paap, Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation President. Garden City, Minn.

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