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Years In The Making, New Farm Bill Becomes Law

Stephen Carmody
Michigan Radio

President Barak Obama signed the new farm bill into law Friday at Michigan State University in East Lansing, ending years of negotiations and wrangling.

With farm equipment, hay bales and crates of apples setting the stage, the president told the crowd that this farm bill – officially called the Agriculture Act of 2014 – will save taxpayer dollars while also offering support to farmers and ranchers. And he says that helps the whole country.

“What we grow here and what we sell is a huge boost to the entire economy,” Obama said, “but especially to the rural economy.”

The long overdue farm bill replaces the 2008 one, which expired in the fall of 2012 and was extended until Sept. 30, 2013. Among the lawmakers attending the event was Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), who chairs the U.S. Senate’s agriculture committee.

Stabenow and the three other leaders of the conference committee, which was charged with drafting a compromise farm bill from legislation passed in the U.S. House and Senate, worked for months to find common ground on farm subsidies and nutrition assistance. Obama praised Stabenow for her leadership.

“[Stabenow] really shepherded through this farm bill, which was a very challenging piece of business,” Obama said.

The new farm bill is projected to cost about $100 billion a year for the next five years. The Congressional Budget Office, which calculates its estimates over a 10-year period, suggests the bill will save about $16 billion from previous spending levels.

The budget for the food stamps program, technically called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), was one of the major sticking points in the farm bill drafting process. The farm bill passed by the Republican-controlled House included about $40 billion in cuts to SNAP. The Senate-passed version cut $4 billion. The final farm bill compromise cuts about $8 billion, about one percent, from the food stamp budget over 10 years.

On the farm side, the new farm bill strips out controversial direct payment subsidies to farmers and bulks up subsidized crop insurance. It also creates disaster assistance programs for livestock producers and makes changes to the safety net for dairy farmers.

At the signing ceremony, the president mentioned that during his visit to Michigan State he met students who were raising pigs.

“When I was in college I lived in a pig sty,” he said, “but I didn’t work in one, so I was impressed by that.”

At the close of his comments, the President took his place behind a desk on the dais and used several different pens in succession to put his signature down on the long-awaited new package of programs, finally putting an end to a nearly three-year saga.

Harvest Public Media’s Jeremy Bernfeld contributed to this report.

Amy Mayer is a reporter based in Ames. She covers agriculture and is part of the Harvest Public Media collaboration. Amy worked as an independent producer for many years and also previously had stints as weekend news host and reporter at WFCR in Amherst, Massachusetts and as a reporter and host/producer of a weekly call-in health show at KUAC in Fairbanks, Alaska. Amy’s work has earned awards from SPJ, the Alaska Press Club and the Massachusetts/Rhode Island AP. Her stories have aired on NPR news programs such as Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Weekend Edition and on Only A Game, Marketplace and Living on Earth. She produced the 2011 documentary Peace Corps Voices, which aired in over 160 communities across the country and has written for The New York Times, Boston Globe, Real Simple and other print outlets. Amy served on the board of directors of the Association of Independents in Radio from 2008-2015.
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