OUR OPINION: Farm Bill poised to move with strength in center

U.S. House and Senate conference committee negotiators, after months of meetings and more than two years of general debate, have approved a new Farm Bill – a $1 trillion piece of legislation affecting every state and every aspect of agriculture, including human nutrition.

It’s expected to pass both chambers and be signed by President Obama.

Support is not unanimous, with opposition coming from some conservatives and some liberals for different reasons, but with seemingly solid support from the political center in both parties and a host of special-interest farm lobby organizations.

Funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly called food stamps, will be reduced $9 billion over 10 years, but while the funding is arguably not as high as needed, it is a much lower cut than the $40 billion cut proposed by the House. The Senate sought a $4 billion reduction.

The 949-page farm report would eliminate a 20-year-old direct payment subsidy program that paid out roughly $5 billion a year to farmers regardless of need and now sinks much of those savings into beefed up crop insurance, the farm press widely reported.

The sphere of influence supporting final passage includes Speaker John Boehner, Ohio; Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, Nevada; Agriculture Chair Sen. Debbie Stabenow, Michigan; and Ranking Sen. Thad Cochran, Mississippi, plus other counterparts on the House side.

The bill is promised to save taxpayers $23 billion, which makes good talking points, regardless of party affiliation.

Of importance in Mississippi, Cochran managed a provision that would have reversed the move of catfish inspections out of FDA and into the USDA’s Food Safety and Inspection Service.

It was left out of the conference report; Cochran had fought the change for catfish producers in Mississippi.

It also would allow SNAP beneficiaries to use their debit cards to make purchases at farmers markets like the Tupelo Farmers Market, and allow the markets to bypass some of the technical requirements for processing payments.

On payment limitations, Cochran had been vocal that strict limits in the House and Senate bills would not work. A compromise was to put in an overall limit of $125,000 per farmer, doubled for married couples.

On the issue of compromises, Stabenow said, “In reality, in governing you have to put everything together.”

That made the difference in this Farm Bill.