OUR OPINION: Farm bill wins full vote of state’s delegation

Mississippi’s congressional delegation – one Democrat and five Republicans – all voted for passage of the new Farm Bill, a huge piece of legislation ensuring program direction and the federal government’s policy role with virtually every crop, plus federal nutrition assistance, where most of the money will be spent.

The House members from Mississippi were unanimously in favor of passage. Republicans Steven Palazzo, from the 4th District; Gregg Harper, from the 3rd District; Alan Nunnelee, from the 1st District, voted for the bill, as did Bennie Thompson, the Democrat representing the 2nd District. Sens. Thad Cochran and Roger Wicker voted for the bill.

Cochran was one of four key conference committee negotiators. He is ranking member of the Agriculture Committee, of which he has been a member since 1979. The ranking member position is usually equated with a vice chairmanship from the minority party in the chamber.

In summary, here are key provisions signed into law on Friday:

• The bill allocates $956 billion in government spending over the next decade, but creates policy for only the next five years.

• The breakdown is $756 billion to the SNAP (Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program) program, $89.8 billion to crop insurance, $56 billion to conservation, $44.4 billion to commodity programs, and $8.2 billion to everything else.

• Nutrition funding, important in Mississippi where poverty is high and many children are at risk, is about $800 million less a year than previously spent, or $8.7 billion in total spending. This means those relying on SNAP may have their benefits lowered by as much as $90 a month.

• All pork, chicken and beef sold in the U.S. must include information on where the animal was “born, slaughtered and processed.”

Nearly a third of all jobs in Mississippi are linked to agriculture and forestry, which generated more than $7.3 billion in 2013. With more than 42,000 farms and roughly 30 million acres of farm and forestland, Mississippi’s agriculture contributes to more than 20 percent of Mississippi’s total economy.

“Agriculture plays a major role in Mississippi – not only for putting food on the table but also in providing a livelihood for many families,” said Wicker, a Tupelo Republican.

The bill doesn’t fully please everyone, but the support for a broad range of programs, policies and what’s called investment of federal resources helped a coalition of political interests hold together for passage.

Honest compromise is increasingly rare in congressional policymaking, but the farm bill achieved that with strong bipartisan support.