COLLIN PETERSON: Finally, a Farm Bill — and a good one at that
WASHINGTON — After nearly four years of work, the U.S. House passed the 2014 Farm Bill conference report (H.R. 2642) with a bipartisan 251-166 vote on Jan. 29.
It’s been a challenging and sometimes frustrating few years. I’ve described the process as lunacy and Never-Never Land and have lamented being caught in Farm Bill hell. But I refused to give up and through it all, the Agriculture Committee members were able to work together and get the job done.
The Agriculture Committees have a strong tradition of cooperation. We listen to each other, try to understand each other and work together in the best interests of our constituents. Some see us as the only committees in Congress that can put partisan politics aside in favor of a compromise.
The 2014 Farm Bill continues this bipartisan tradition.
This Farm Bill gives farmers and ranchers the necessary tools to provide American consumers with the safest, most abundant and most affordable food supply in the world. And with roughly 16 million American jobs tied to agriculture, the Farm Bill is a jobs bill. The rural economy remained strong during our nation’s financial crisis, and that has continued during our recovery; this is in large part due to agriculture.
And this is why the Farm Bill is so important.
Direct payments — outdated and indefensible subsidies that went to farmers whether they needed them or not — have been eliminated. Now, farmers will have the choice of a price- or revenue-based safety net that will provide assistance only if there’s a price or crop loss. Dairy farmers also will have a new safety net.
While it’s not quite what I originally had proposed, I think this compromise will provide farmers the market-oriented insurance signals they need to address overproduction.
The sugar program is continued, providing sugar growers with a strong safety net. Furthermore, the bill protects and improves crop insurance and provides disaster assistance for livestock producers.
The 2014 Farm Bill’s conservation title, which lets us continue to protect and preserve our natural resources, has been streamlined to be more efficient. Hunting, conservation and environmental groups all have praised these provisions.
The conservation title also creates a new Regional Conservation Partnership Program, something I’ve long advocated for inclusion. These regional partnerships will use existing conservation programs to help address water retention in the Red River Valley and other areas of the country.
Additionally, the bill builds on the work done by the Land Stewardship Project in Minnesota to expand opportunities for beginning, socially disadvantaged and veteran farmers. It also builds on the 2008 Farm Bill’s recognition of the consumer demand for fresh fruits and vegetables, local foods and organics.
And while I didn’t get everything I wanted, neither did anybody else — that’s how compromise works. Even with all the partisanship in Washington, the Farm Bill proves that compromise is possible.
Peterson, a Democrat, represents Minnesota in the U.S. House. He is the ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee.