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Officials react to Farm Bill

BY IAN MURPHY | FEBRUARY 05, 2014 5:00 AM

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The U.S. Senate passed the farm bill on a 68-32 vote Tuesday —creating mixed reactions from both Iowa farmers and senators.

The farm bill. passed every five years, provides a structure for federal agriculture spending and policy, and includes the regulation of the government’s food stamp program, school food operations, and rural housing assistance.

Tiffin area farmer Steve Swenka said he is excited the bill finally passed and is happy to see it in front of the president.

“We’re happy it’s getting through the hurdles,” Swenka said. “It’s been a long time coming.”

Sen. Grassley, R-Iowa, who voted against the bill, was not pleased with the vote.

“This puts small- and medium-size farms and young and beginning farmers at a disadvantage,” Grassley said in a press release. “These are the very people the farm program is supposed to help.”

Jerry Anderson, the Washington County Regional Farm Bureau manager, said Grassley thought the farm payout limitations were not strict enough.

Anderson said the payouts offer up to $175,000 per person or couple, but said Grassley thought there were too many loopholes in the rules that would allow farmers earning over a certain number to receive payouts.

“I’m extremely disappointed that my provisions to place a hard cap on farm payments and better define who can receive those payments were stripped down to such a great extent that they likely won’t have much effect,” Grassley said.

Anderson said the bill took out direct and counter-cyclical payments that would have added around $20 in payouts per acre for corn and soybeans.

The removal of these payouts is the Midwestern farmers’ way of helping to reduce the federal budget deficit, Anderson said.

He said they realized the federal government does not have the funds to make these payouts.

Larry Sailor, a farmer near Iowa Falls, had mixed feelings about the bill.

“I’m happy it passed; I’m not as happy with what’s in it,” Sailor said.

Sailor and Anderson estimated up to 80 percent of the bill does not deal with agriculture, instead addressing the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — or SNAP.

Another provision Sailor said he dislikes is the addition of country-of-origin labeling.

Country-of-origin labeling, Sailor said, is harmful to farmers because it will affect where they can sell their products.

Sailor said he frequently buys pigs from Canada and then raises them here in America. The labeling makes it harder to resell his pigs because buyers distrust them because they are Canadian.

Sailor said he thinks this will hurt American trade with Canada and Mexico because the labeling will cause buyers such as him will buy fewer international products.

Overall though, both Sailor and Swenka are pleased with the bill.

They agreed the crop-insurance subsidies are very important for the industry.

“They are extremely important to even out the highs and lows for farmers,” Sailor said.

Crop insurance is not cost-effective for a farmer or the insurance company, Anderson said. The cost can often be prohibitive for farmers, Swenka said.

With the new bill, the federal government will put forth roughly 30 percent of the insurance premium. This subsidy usually covers base insurance, and then farmers can choose to pay out of pocket for more coverage.

Anderson said overall he is pleased with the bill, and believes it will be a useful planning tool.

“It’s nice to have some predictability,” he said.

Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, who was on the conference committee that worked on the bill, said in a press release he is very pleased with the bill.

“This proposal is a sound, balanced, bipartisan bill. It contains significant reforms and extends and funds progressive elements that I was proud to include in previous farm bills,” Harkin said in a press release. “Such elements include the promotion of local foods and better nutrition, the conservation of our natural resources, and investments in renewable energy and farm-income protection.”

The bill had its share of speed bumps in the lawmaking process.

“This agreement is not perfect, and each side had to give a little,” Harkin said in the press release.
Anderson said he was aware of the challenges.

“With good legislation, neither side is happy,” Anderson said. “So, I guess this might be good legislation.”


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