Better Late Than Never

Congress Approves Farm Bill

Published in the March 2014 Issue Published online: Mar 14, 2014 Allen Thayer

Sugarbeet growers and everyone else in the agriculture sector can relax a little bit.
That’s the immediate reaction to word that Congress approved a five-year farm bill on Feb. 4 and sent it to President Barack Obama for his expected signature. A House plan to make major cuts to food stamps would be scaled back under the bipartisan agreement. The new five-year bill came after lawmakers spent weeks ironing out differences over food stamps, dairy price supports and other issues contained in earlier House and Senate legislation. It trims spending on food stamps for poor Americans by about 1 percent and expands government-backed crop insurance programs.
The Senate passed the bill 68-32 after the House passed it 251-166 on Jan. 29.
The legislation provides a financial cushion for growers who face unpredictable weather and market conditions, but the bulk of the bill’s nearly $100 billion-a-year cost is for the food stamp program, which aids 1 in 7 Americans.
Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., who authored the bill with her House counterpart, Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said she is proud of the bipartisan deal negotiators reached, despite the long road to passage.
The bill affects about 16 million jobs in the country’s agricultural sector and can have an impact on the business landscape for major agricultural companies. It is expected to save about $24 billion over 10 years, compared with current funding. The final price tag over a decade is expected to be close to $1 trillion.
Food stamp savings “are reached without removing anyone” from the program, according to a statement from the offices of the four major farm bill negotiators.
With congressional elections looming in November, Obama has highlighted social safety-net programs such as food stamps and unemployment insurance as a way to combat the widening income gap in the United States.
The massive legislation contained provisions on everything from an initiative to help beginning growers and ranchers get a foothold in the business, to funding for research into chronic wasting disease in deer, to biofuels and organic farming.
The last farm bill, which passed in 2008, expired in September after being extended for one year while negotiators ironed out differences between measures approved in the House and Senate.
With the new farm bill in place, growers can look ahead to other important issues facing the sugar industry. Luther Markwart, executive vice president of the American Sugarbeet Growers Association, sheds light on some of those election-year topics in his column.
Away from Congress, growers are dealing with worries going beyond sugar policy. Oregon grower Bruce Corn, the March Sugar Producer Grower of the Month, discusses the ramifications of a possible third straight year of water shortages. He also recounts his family’s proud beet legacy now in its fifth generation.
A land sales report on page 27 discloses what the price drop in beets means for landowners in North Dakota, South Dakota and Minnesota. It also found good grower demand for more land.
Another feature in this issue examines what might face beet growers in 2025. That date is only 11 years away and as fast as technology moves these days it’s good to consider the future. Find out what people in the sugar industry had to say.