President and farmers know bill isn’t perfect; still pleased

Feb. 09–After years of uncertainty, a new five-year farm bill was made official by the President’s signature Friday, and many farmers are simply happy the feud is over. They knew the overdue compromise wasn’t going to be perfect.

“Anything is better than nothing,” said Jim O’Connor, of Blooming Prairie. “The fact they actually got something that they could agree on and get it passed, that is positive.”

Like others, O’Connor realizes the bill is more or less a variation of previous bills. The bill expands federal crop insurance but ends direct government payments that go to farmers whether they produce anything or not. However, the bulk of the nearly $100 billion-per-year cost is for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps, which aids 1 in 7 Americans.

To O’Connor, that’s the biggest news, not the benefits for farmers. While the bill makes cuts SNAP by 1 percent, $800 million from the $80 billion-per-year program, O’Connor still sees the bill as a food and nutrition bill.

“The majority of it’s still in the Food and Nutrition Program, 79.8 percent of it,” O’Connor said. “That’s the real story there. Very, very little of it is going to production agriculture,” O’Connor said. “My thoughts are this: If it’s a food and nutrition bill, call it a food and nutrition bill. Don’t call it a farm bill.”

President Barack Obama praised the bill for gutting the direct payments. Most of that program’s $4.5 billion annual cost was redirected into new, more politically defensible subsidies that would kick in when a farmer has losses.

O’Connor agreed with others about the controversy of direct payments, and that something needed to change. However, he wasn’t happy to see that entire aspect disappear.

“Direct payments, it needed revision, as opposed to scrapping altogether,” he said.

Adam Franzen, a farmer from Lyle, said the bill is nearly what he expected. That’s why he’s not too upset about the majority of the funding going toward SNAP.

“I guess it’s always kind of been that way,” Franzen said. “I don’t know if everybody realizes where the whole SNAP money comes from. That’s just the way they allot the money. It has to be under some bill.”

He, too, is simply glad the legislative controversy is over.

“I’m glad they got one passed, so we could move on,” Franzen said.

However, he isn’t upset to see an end to direct payments.

“I’m fine with that because the commodity prices are higher,” he said, and noted it would be different if corn were only $2 per bushel.

Ric Murphy, who also farms near Lyle, agrees with an end to direct payments, “which was long overdue,” he said.

Again, something is better than nothing, and Murphy is glad he’ll have a security blanket.

“It’s nice to have some security and basis on which to conduct your business,” he said. “Farming is a long-term business. You can’t just live from day to day or month to month. You have to a plan in line, and a future, to survive.”

Minnesota Corn Growers Association President Ryan Buck seemed pleased with the renewed legislation, as well, and issued this statement on Friday: “It’s been a while since Minnesota’s corn farmers went into a planting season with the certainty that a farm bill provides. It took a lot longer than necessary, but we finally have a farm bill that strengthens crop insurance and provides a market-oriented farm safety net while cutting our nation’s deficit by $24 billion over the next 10 years. Being a farmer requires patience and perseverance, both of which came in handy during this process. Buck praised legislators Amy Klobuchar, Al Franken, Tim Walz (all DFL-Minn.) for supporting the bill, along with others.

Obama said the legislation would reduce the deficit “without gutting the vital assistance programs millions of hardworking Americans count on to help put food on the table for their families.”

He added the farm bill isn’t perfect, “but on the whole, it will make a positive difference not only for the rural economies that grow America’s food, but for our nation.”

To gather votes for the bill, Democrat Stabenow and her House counterpart, Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., included a boost for crop insurance popular in the Midwest, higher subsidies for Southern rice and peanut farmers and land payments for Western states. The bill also sets policy for hundreds of smaller programs, subsidies, loans and grants — from research on wool to loans for honey producers to protections for the catfish industry. The bill would provide assistance for rural Internet services and boost organic agriculture.

Stabenow said the bill is also intended to help consumers, boost farmers markets, encourage local food production and seek to improve access to grocery stores in low-income communities.

A full version and summary of the bill are available at agriculture.house.gov/farmbill.

–The Associated Press contributed to this report.