Montana's federal lawmakers are starting a new push to pass a bill, which stalled in Congress last session, to help Montana's major industry — agriculture.
"One in five Montana paychecks relies on our agriculture industry. Passing a full five-year Farm Bill will support our number one industry in Montana while helping reduce the deficit by $23 billion, " Sen. Max Baucus, D-Mont., said in a press release. "Reducing the deficit while supporting jobs is a win-win, and I'll keep working to make sure the Farm Bill works for Montana. "
The Senate last June passed a five-year Farm Bill, which Baucus helped write, making some major changes in existing programs.
The House never took up the Senate bill, and House Speaker John Boehner, R-Ohio, didn't schedule the House version, which passed the House agriculture committee a short while later, for debate on the floor.
Baucus said in the release that farmers and ranchers in Montana, and across the country, need a long-term plan for what the federal government will provide in programs and oversight, rather than the extension of past programs that was passed.
That extension expires at the end of September.
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., a Big Sandy dryland farmer himself, made similar comments.
"Montana farmers and ranchers need certainty to plan for their futures and provide food security for our nation, " he told the Havre Daily News. "The Senate last year passed a bipartisan Farm Bill that provided that certainty, while strengthening the safety net for our producers and cutting the nation's deficit. I will make sure this year's bill reflects those values and works for our farmers and ranchers. "
Freshman Rep. Steve Daines, R-Mont., said that after listening to his constituents, the Farm Bill is a top priority for him, as well.
"One of the first things I did after taking office was call the leaders of Montana's ag groups to hear their concerns and let them know how committed I am to getting a farm bill passed, " he told the Havre Daily.
"It's clear that we need a long-term solution. Agriculture is a key part of Montana's economy, and I strongly believe that it's time to put a five-year farm bill in place that gives farmers and ranchers the certainty needed to make long-term planning decisions, " Daines said.
Baucus also is pushing to extend disaster benefits for livestock producers, introducing legislation the end of last week for that purpose.
Livestock disaster programs were not part of the temporary extension of the farm bill passed last year, and they expired at the end of the 2011 fiscal year last September.
Without an extension, many ranchers will be left with no support to recover from severe fires and drought that swept the country last year, Baucus said Friday in a release.
"Montana ranchers work hard every day to support jobs across our state and put food on tables across the country, and we can't turn our backs on them during the worst drought in more than 50 years, " Baucus said. "This bill is the right thing to do for our ranchers and the right thing to do for Montana jobs. "
Former National Cattlemen's Beef Association President Bill Donald of Melville said the relief is greatly needed.
"Disaster assistance is welcome news with nearly 70 percent of cattle county suffering with the drought, and many areas have been suffering for more than two years, " he said in the release. "Currently there is no consistency with disaster assistance, which makes it questionable if producers can count on it or not. This bill will go a long way to ensure cattle producers will have the stability to operate even when Mother Nature creates challenges. "
Baucus said the five-year Senate bill would support 16 million jobs nationwide through programs that support farmers and ranchers, boost trade and invest in research.
It also would cut the deficit by $23 billion, while creating a strong, new risk management program that maintains support for Montana farmers and ranchers in times of disaster, he added.
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, with a single program known as Agriculture Risk Coverage, or ARC.
The bill also reduces the federal subsidy on crop insurance for operations with an adjusted gross income of $750,000 or more, and attempts to cut expenses in the Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program formerly known as food stamps — which costs $80 billion a year — through preventing abuse and waste without cutting benefits.
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.
The Senate bill also continues some programs such as funding to support alternative energy research and production.