SENATE PASSES FARM BILL
The Senate passed the farm bill this week, with both Sen. Richard Shelby and Sen. Jeff Sessions voting in favor of the bill. President Bush has said he would sign the farm bill as soon as possible.
Alabama Farmers Federation President Jerry Newby said this farm program will protect both U.S. farmers and consumers.
"Farmers in Alabama are delighted that we finally have a new farm bill that will provide a safety net for producers," Newby said. "We want to thank our senators and congressmen for their help in this long, hard ordeal. They've been true friends to us and true advocates for American agriculture.
"We also appreciate the leaders in our organization and the efforts they made to communicate our message to our leaders in Washington."
The Farm Security and Rural Investment Act of 2002 restores the safety net to producers by providing crop supports through a combination of loan rates and counter-cyclical payments. It ensures producers a stable income by providing support only when the market fails to do so. In addition, the provisions that allow the producer to update his production bases and yields means the farmer will be assured a safety net that is representative of his actual production.
The new farm bill conference report also represents an 80 percent increase in conservation funding that will provide significant opportunities to get cost-share assistance through such programs as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.
Other programs in the Farmland Protection Program (a 20 percent increase), the Wildlife Habitat Incentives Program (a tenfold increase), and $275 million for the Small Watershed Rehabilitation Program -- a program that is essential to rural areas in Alabama. The bill further provides for increases in nutrition, trade, and research, and ensures adequate funding for important programs in Alabama such as the WIC Farmers Market Nutrition Program and the Seniors Farmers Market Nutrition Program. It also provides for additional commodities in the school lunch program, and includes a pilot program through which fresh fruits and vegetables will be provided free in schools.
The conference report through the leadership of Subcommittee Chairman U.S. Rep. Terry Everett (R-Ala.) provides for historic reform of the decades-old quota system for peanuts, and provides a more market-oriented approach through the marketing loan. The bill also provides for fair treatment of quota owners by compensating them at a cost of over $1 billion. This new peanut program is absolutely essential to the continued viability of the peanut industry in the Southeast, Everett said.
Finally, the payment limitations reduce the size of benefits available to larger enterprises, but does provide for the retention of the three-entity rule and marketing loan certificates. The compromise will ensure that commercial size farms in Alabama will continue to be able to market their commodities rather than forfeiting their crops to the Commodity Credit Corporation. The means test and the reduction in the amount of benefits for a farming enterprise constitute significant reform for the farm bill.
The energy and rural development titles of the conference report provide for over $1 billion in rural development funding that provides for both television and broad-band access to rural areas. Further, it provides over $240 million in new funding for value-added agricultural market development grants.
The energy title alone provides for $75 million for biomass research and development, and over $400 million for bioenergy research, education, and bioenergy purchases through the Commodity Credit Corporation.