By The Denver Post
The latest version of broad legislation defining the nation’s agricultural and food assistance policy – the so-called farm bill – takes the important step of ending direct payments to farmers regardless of crop production.
It’s the right direction for a nation with a challenging financial outlook and changing priorities.
The Senate has passed the massive, $955 billion bill, and the House will take it up soon. We hope they find a way to compromise on the contested elements, the most controversial of which is food-stamp funding, so the new policy can be put into place.
The Senate’s bill, a five-year spending plan, would save billions by ending direct payments to farmers and expanding a subsidized crop insurance program that acts as a safety net in case of bad weather or price volatility.
In addition, the ability to get crop insurance will be tied to responsible stewardship of farmland.
These are thoughtful changes that should set a new course in farm policy. While we favor the change in direction, we’re nevertheless concerned about the magnitude of support the crop insurance program will offer. As it stands, the government subsidizes more than 60 percent of crop insurance premiums. According to The New York Times, the policies guarantee 75 percent to 85 percent of a farmer’s revenue.
The element of the behemoth bill that is likely to generate the most controversy, however, is the food-assistance piece.
The Senate version of the measure includes a $4 billion decrease in food-stamp funding over the next 10 years. The House has indicated it wants something more like $20 billion cut from food assistance.
It is a stark example of how far apart the two chambers still are on the bill.
When the House takes up its measure, we hope there is an inclination toward compromise so the farm bill, which already is operating on an extension, can be passed.
“A full 5-year farm bill is long overdue,” said Colorado Sen. Michael Bennet in a prepared statement.
These days, agreement in Congress is a rarity, and in this case has the potential to result in a smart change of direction for farm and food-support policy so long as there is a reasonable appetite for compromise.