While a vote on the farm bill remains unclear in the House of Representatives, the U.S. Senate passed the five-year measure on Monday evening (June 10) on a final bipartisan vote of 66-27.
The "Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013" makes significant reforms to farm programs, ending direct payments, eliminating duplication and streamlines programs for total savings of more than $24 billion.
Wisconsin's Senators split on the measure. Tammy Baldwin, a Democrat, said that Wisconsin's farmers have been an "engine for our state's economy for generations" and that this key segment of the state economy needed certainty.
"The Farm Bill makes important investments in our rural communities and supports an industry critical to our state's economy," Baldwin said.
"I was proud to work across party lines and support this legislation because it will help move Wisconsin's economy forward. Our farmers need long-term certainty - not short-term legislative band aids."
Baldwin said she supported the bill because it preserves beginning farmer programs, supports biofuels, increases the ability of farmers to sell what they grow in their local markets, expands export opportunities for American farm products and makes important investments in broadband development (high-speed internet) in rural areas.
Sen. Ron Johnson, a Republican, voted against the measure. In a statement following his vote against the measure, he said that the food stamp program should be separated from farm programs.
"About 80 percent of the spending in the 'Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act' will be spent on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP - commonly called food stamps, a program that is out of control and should be separated from the farm bill and debated on its own merits," Johnson said.
"This bill is simply not targeted to help farm and dairy families dealing with overregulation, misguided federal policies, and weak demand brought on by terrible economic growth.
"Instead of beginning to address the problem, this bill only makes it worse," he added.
Johnson said that there were positive provisions, such as improved risk management, but they were outweighed by government-regulated dairy supply management and sugar subsidies and prompted his vote against the measure. (See sedebar on dairy provisions.)
American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman commended the Senate for moving quickly on the farm bill, which provides "needed risk management tools and a viable economic safety net for America's farmers and ranchers.
"We appreciate the Senate's decision to protect and strengthen the federal crop insurance program and not reduce its funding, as well as the approval of a commodity program that provides farmers varied safety net options," Stallman said.
"This approach to farm policy will encourage farmers to follow market signals rather than basing planting decisions on anticipation of government farm benefits. Most importantly, the program will be viable because the Senate stood firm on a budget savings level of $24 billion."
National Farmers Union (NFU) President Roger Johnson called the "Agriculture, Reform, Food and Jobs Act" a vital piece of legislation for family farmers and ranchers across the country.
"I am happy to see language included that will provide a safety net for family farmers and ranchers, as well as a robust crop insurance program, mandatory energy funding, streamlined conservation programs, additional protections for livestock producers and incentives for locally owned and organic production.
Johnson urged the House of Representatives to follow suit with expeditious floor consideration and passage of its version of the legislation.
National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA) President Scott George, a dairy and beef producer from Cody, WY said he was very pleased with passage of the 2013 farm bill by the Senate.
"Cattlemen and women have been asking Congress to pass a farm bill which not only provides certainty for agricultural producers nationwide, but also incorporates priorities important to the cattle industry - there is not a livestock title, conservation programs are maintained and the research title is sustained. We are also pleased that disaster assistance programs are included in this legislation which is a positive step toward providing a strong safety net for our producers.
Danny Murphy, president of the American Soybean Association (ASA) said that again the Senate had shown "admirable dedication" to passing a new farm bill that will "provide certainty for soybean farmers and our fellow members of the agriculture community."
The Canton, MS farmer said the Senate's bill represented many of ASA's priorities and is a "critical step toward strengthening the farm safety net, protecting planting flexibility, improving conservation, bolstering exports and feeding our nation's hungry."
Murphy said the bill also represents a commitment from farmers to the country's collective financial responsibility, cutting billions in spending and streamlining redundant and ineffective federal programs.
"It is a bill that provides much-needed certainty to farmers facing a mounting force of weather- and market-related unknowns, and we commend Chairwoman Stabenow, Ranking Member Cochran, members of the Senate Agriculture Committee and the entire Senate for its hard work."
The Senate measure includes: Specialty Crop Block Grants to support research for crops like cranberries, potatoes, ginseng, and cherries; The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act to provide tools for farmers including technical assistance and training programs, as well as matching funds for savings accounts and lower loan rates.
The measure also includes the Local Food, Farms and Jobs Act to support access to farmers markets, improve crop insurance for organics, and support extension programs for small farmers and the Rural Energy Investment Act to provide funds for renewable projects including anaerobic digesters and investments in biofuel crops.
Conservation groups were happy that the Senate's version of the farm bill maintained a strong conservation title and included the national "Sodsaver" program and a re-coupling of conservation compliance to crop insurance.
"A national Sodsaver program and re-coupling conservation compliance to crop insurance are tremendous steps forward in slowing the devastating trend of wetland and grassland habitat loss," said Ducks Unlimited CEO Dale Hall.
"Our nation is currently experiencing a rate of wetland and native prairie loss not seen since the Dust Bowl. These proactive programs will benefit humans and wildlife by ensuring clean drinking water, lessening the impact of floods, slowing the rate of habitat destruction and keeping working farms and ranches productive."
A recent South Dakota State University study found that the rates of grassland conversion since 2006 have been comparable to deforestation rates in South America and Asia in the 1980s and '90s.
The accelerated rate of conversion, in part due to the unintended consequences of current agriculture policy and advanced technology, has contributed to the loss of more than 70 percent of the nation's native grasslands and 50 percent of its wetlands, the study found.
Agriculture and conservation groups immediately began urging House members to approve a comprehensive farm bill that can be sent to the president before the current extension expires on Sept. 30.