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Franken says the Senate to vote soon on new farm bill

WILLMAR — The Senate is expected to vote very soon on the farm bill, officially called the Agricultural Act of 2014, and Sen. Al Franken is calling the bill a bipartisan effort that is not perfect, but does modernize farm programs, provide jobs and reduce the deficit.

“It’s a good bipartisan bill that will give Minnesota farmers and farmers across the country the certainty they need for the future,” Franken said in a conference call with media Thursday morning.

The House on Wednesday passed the $956 billion bill, of which about 80 percent is funding for nutrition programs. Franken said that if the Senate doesn’t vote this week, the vote will be early next week. The bill includes $16.6 billion in savings, according to figures from the Congressional Budget Office, ends direct subsidy payments to farmers and leaves in place taxpayer subsidization of crop insurance, tying compliance to conservation standards to crop insurance coverage for producers.

Senate passage of the bill is very much expected. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, issued a statement Wednesday after the House passage.

“It’s now up to the Senate to take the final step. The Senate has twice passed the farm bill with overwhelming bipartisan support. I have no doubt we’ll do it again, and show that it is possible to do something to reduce the deficit and boost the economy when people work across the aisle.”

Franken noted the two passages, in June 2012 and June 2013, in his description of the two-year process he called a “struggle” to pass the bill. Debate about cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, still commonly referred to as food stamps, delayed the bill as the Republican-dominated House demanded $40 billion in cuts to program.

Franken touted his role in writing the energy title of the bill, including $880 million funding for biomass, wind and solar energy production, noting that there is support in the bill for biomass, biochemical and biorefineries that are creating rural jobs and strengthening rural communities.

The senator also noted that there is $100 million in funding for helping beginning farmers.

John Mages, who farms in the Belgrade area and serves on the Minnesota Corn Growers Board, spoke on the conference call and noted that the organization’s goals were to get the bill passed and protect crop insurance, which is now the main safety net for crop producers.

“The farm bill is supposed to be written for the bad times,” he said, noting that crop insurance coverage helped producers in last year’s drought, and prevented the need for a major disaster program.

The bill also raises target prices for major crops, $3.70 per bushel of corn, $8.40 per bushel of soybeans and $5.50 for bushel of wheat, at which farmers can claim counter-cyclical payments from the government if prices fall below those levels, Mages noted.

It is crop insurance, which has options for farmers, and the price protections, he noted, that farmers need to survive weather and grain prices.

“If we suffer losses, we need support to get through the challenges until next year,” Mages said.

Gretchen Schlosser

Gretchen Schlosser is the public safety reporter, and writes about agriculture occasionally, for the West Central Tribune. She's been with the Tribune since 2006 and has 17 years of experience working in news, media and communications. 

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