REACTIONS MIXED AS SENATE PASSES 2007 FARM BILL
WASHINGTON, D.C. -- The U.S. Senate today passed by an overwhelming majority the 2007 farm bill, The Food and Energy Security Act. The measure continues and improves farm income protection and makes historic investments for the future in energy, conservation, nutrition and rural development initiatives --- all while staying within strict budget limits.
The Chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, Senator Tom Harkin (D-IA) hailed the bill's passage, while Acting Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Conner called the bill "fundamentally flawed."
This legislation garnered more votes than any other farm bill since 1973. The final vote count was 79-14. Differences between this bill and the House-passed farm bill will now be worked out in Conference.
"This is a strong, bipartisan bill --- evident by the fact that it passed Committee after only one day of deliberation with no negative votes voiced against it and passed the Senate today by an overwhelming majority," said Harkin. "After months of negotiations, we were able to work within a very strict budget allocation to complete our work and pass a farm bill that is good for agriculture, good for rural areas and good for the health of Americans.
"This is a forward-looking farm bill with greatly strengthened initiatives to support renewable energy, conservation, nutrition, rural development and to promote better diets and health for all Americans," Harkin added. "It maintains a strong safety net for farm producers, and strengthens programs that will help agricultural producers of all kinds across our nation."
American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman issued a statement on the farm bill's passage, commending the Senate for its passage.
""The American Farm Bureau Federation commends the U.S. Senate for passing its 2007 farm bill legislation," Stallman's statement read. "Farmers and ranchers are encouraged with the knowledge they are one step closer to being able to make important spring planting decisions.
"This legislation contains important provisions for all sectors of agriculture, including expanded marketing programs to encourage the consumption of fruits and vegetables, incentives for beginning farmers and ranchers and provisions to promote the production of home-grown renewable fuels. The bill also meets the needs of more of America's farmers by providing new funding for specialty crop research, conservation and pest and disease programs.
"The farm bill benefits all Americans with important programs for nutrition, conservation, energy security and support for rural communities. In doing so, the bill supports the production of our nation's food and fiber staples and it preserves a way of life that benefits all of American society.
"We look forward to working with both the House and Senate as they move to conference on this critical legislation."
Conner, however, saw the legislation differently. "This legislation is fundamentally flawed," said Conner, a proponent of overhauling the farm support system. "Unless the House and Senate can come together and craft a measure that contains real reform, we are no closer to a good farm bill than we were before today's passage."
The bill includes a newly named Producer Income Protection title of that continues basic features of the 2002 bill, which have worked well, and it gives producers a new option, beginning with the 2010 crop year, to choose to participate in a state-level revenue protection system.
The Average Crop Revenue program, modeled after legislation introduced by Sen. Dick Durbin (D-IL) and Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), offers producers better options for managing risk on their farms in today's uncertain, rapidly changing farm environment, claimed the bill's supporters.
The conservation title extends key conservation programs and increases critical funding. This will allow CSP --- now renamed the Conservation Stewardship Program --- to grow vigorously at a pace of more than 13 million acres a year, which with the 15 million acres already enrolled, will equal 80 million acres in five years.
This funding will also continue to allow increased enrollment in the Wetland Reserve Program, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Grassland Reserve Program.
The energy title provides investments in farm-based energy by creating initiatives with financial incentives to help farmers transition into biomass crops, and supports the construction of biorefineries from cellulose ethanol with a loan guarantee program that will provide up to 80 percent of total project cost with a loan cap of $250 million.
The bill expands markets for biobased products, and invests in farm-based energy R&D, and in helping farmers, ranchers and rural small businesses move to renewable energy and energy efficiency.
The nutrition title strengthens our commitment to fighting hunger and promoting sound health and nutrition. It updates archaic nutrition program rules, increases Food Stamp benefit levels, and stops the erosion of benefits that has gone unchecked since 1996.
It expands the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program created by Harkin to reach nearly 4.5 million children in elementary schools nationwide.
The bill's livestock title will promote market opportunities for producers; it will protect animal health; and it will strengthen enforcement of the Packers and Stockyards Act. This title strengthens the mandatory Country of Origin Labeling, with minor changes.
The rural development title provides $400 million in budget authority for a variety of initiatives that will promote economic growth and create jobs in rural communities.
Supporters say this title will help agriculture producers and small businesses to create and capitalize on new opportunities. It will bring quality, affordable day care as well as improved access to broadband to rural America. It will provide loans to rural hospitals so that they can acquire the best equipment possible.
The bill greatly increases assistance to growers of fruits, vegetables and other specialty crops. And it contains a full reauthorization of the Commodity Exchange Act until 2013.
For more information, visit http://agriculture.senate.gov.