Traverse City Record-Eagle

January 25, 2014

Stabenow: Farm Bill will pass, and soon


— TRAVERSE CITY — U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow said passage of the Farm Bill is imminent and northern Michigan farmers will be pleased with the final version of the legislation.

“This is very good for Michigan,” Stabenow told the Record-Eagle this week. “Our cherry growers, our apple growers, blueberries, all of our specialty crops, fruits and vegetables, will love this bill.”

Stabenow, a Democrat, chairs the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition & Forestry. She said the legislation could be approved by Congress within a few weeks, and end years of gridlock in Congress over the nation’s most important agricultural policy tool.

The estimated $1 trillion bill has been halted mostly because of differences between Democrats and Republicans over the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly referred to as food stamps.

Stabenow said Republicans and Democrats are furiously negotiating this week the final details of a Farm Bill with the intent of producing legislation that can pass Congress. She said legislators are keenly aware the public’s patience with Washington, D.C. leaders’ failure to pass the legislation ran out long ago.

“Are you kidding me?” Stabenow said. “Nobody is more frustrated than me. I absolutely guarantee you there is not one person who is more frustrated than me.”

Stabenow expects the final version to “strengthen support for organics, which is a growing sector of agriculture. It also strengthens funding for farmers markets, local food systems ... all of those things are strengthened.”

The Farm Bill will allow for new regional partnerships for funding Great Lakes conservation issues. Perhaps most significant to farmers is the elimination of direct subsidies, which will be replaced by enhanced crop insurance programs.

“No one is going to get a payment just because they grow something,” Stabenow said. “They would have to have a loss, so we have strengthened crop insurance. The (insurance) cost is shared through the Farm Bill. The farmer pays about half, we pay about half, and you don’t get any payout unless you have loss. We also, by the way, are creating crop insurance for fruits and vegetable growers.”