Montana’s U.S. senators said they were pleased that their chamber — again — passed a five-year Farm Bill.
The Senate passed the bill Monday on a 66-27 vote. It passed a version last year, but Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, never scheduled it or the House version its Agriculture Committee passed to be debated.
The Farm Bill sets national policy on agriculture programs and provides nutrition programs including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps.
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Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., who sits on the Senate ag committee and helped draft the bill, praised its passage.
“The Senate Farm Bill provides certainty Montana farmers can take to the bank, and it makes sure our ranchers will always have the support they need when disaster strikes,” Baucus said in a press release Monday. “I’m calling on the House to act quickly — Montana jobs are counting on us to get this done.”
Sen. Jon Tester, also a Democrat, also praised the bill.
“This Farm Bill makes long-needed reforms that cut spending while preserving a strong safety net for farmers,” he said in a release Monday. “It’s a bipartisan, fiscally responsible plan that will support and strengthen Montana’s number one industry.”
Freshman Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont., has been calling on the House to take action on passing a Farm Bill. He said he is looking forward to debating the version that has passed the House committee, and to resolving any differences between it and the Senate version.
“Agriculture is a key part of Montana's economy, and I'm pleased to see progress in both the Senate and House to provide Montana's ag producers with the certainty that a five-year Farm Bill brings,” Daines said in a statement to the Havre Daily News this morning. “As the Farm Bill moves towards the House floor this month, I will continue to work to ensure that Montana's agriculture priorities and rural interests are protected in the legislation. When we get to the point of working out the differences between the House and Senate versions, I want to work to make sure the bill works for Montana."
Baucus said he worked to include some benefits for Montana ag producers, including livestock disaster assistance for ranchers struck by drought in the state and across the country.
Baucus included livestock disaster assistance in the 2007 Farm Bill, but those provisions expired last year. He backfilled the program through last year in this year’s version, and makes livestock disaster assistance permanent in the new bill.
The bill also does some major revisions to programs.
Some of the changes in the Senate bill include eliminating some long-standing — and some fairly new — programs such as direct payments, countercyclical payments, Supplemental Revenue Enhancement Program and Average Crop Revenue Election, known as SURE and ACRE.
Those programs are replaced two programs known as Agriculture Risk Coverage, or ARC, and a new counter-cyclical program to help ag producers with price drops. That program is called Adverse Market Payments, or AMP.
The bill also would call for a study by the U.S. Department of Agriculture to study the impacts of reducing the the federal subsidy on crop insurance for operations with an adjusted gross income of $750,000 or more.
While that proposal has widespread support, some producers have raised concerns that eliminating large operations could increase premiums for smaller producers.
The Senate bill also reduces SNAP — which costs $80 billion a year — by about $400 million.
Some programs, such as protections for sugar producers including Montana’s sugarbeet growers, remain.
The bill consolidates 23 conservation programs into 13 programs, and altogether eliminates some 100 programs and authorizations its supporters say are no longer needed. It also reduces the maximum number of acres enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program from 32 million acres to 25 million acres by 2017.