In responding to the Senate's 66-27 final passage of a five-year farm bill Monday night, a number of agriculture, conservation and renewable fuels industry groups lauded a variety of provisions in the legislation, calling on the U.S. House of Representatives to pass similar legislation.
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, said in a statement Monday that the Senate bill was a step in the right direction because it keeps provisions that focus on farm payments for small- and medium-sized farmers and closes loopholes that allow non-farmers to benefit from farm programs.
"Having responsible payment limits on the commodity program is crucial to the defensibility of the farm safety-net," Grassley said.
"We need payment caps on our commodity programs, and we need to close loopholes that have allowed non-farmers to game the system. I hope the House takes notice at the reforms in the Senate-passed bill and sees the positive changes we made to the farm payment system.
"And, while the inclusion of my payment limits plan is very reform-minded, the target price program that is included in the final bill will take us back a step. Target prices distort planting decisions, and I hear opposition to it from Iowa farmers all the time. We've tried it before and it doesn't work.
"While I continue to have concerns about the potential impacts of the shallow loss and target price programs created in this farm bill, I would also agree with the overwhelming sentiment from Iowa farmers that they need to have certainty. A five-year farm bill that includes my payment limit reforms, maintains the crop insurance program, and streamlines conservation programs gives that certainty."
The Senate bill would establish a per-farm cap of $50,000 on all commodity program benefits, except those associated with the marketing loan program (loan deficiency payments and marketing loan gains). Those would be capped at $75,000, for a combined limit of $125,000 and $250,000 for married couples.
The bill also closes loopholes that allow non-farmers to qualify for farm payments and would allow only one off-farm manager.
American Farm Bureau Federation president Bob Stallman said in a statement that the Senate's decision to maintain funding for crop insurance was important.
"We appreciate the Senate's decision to protect and strengthen the federal crop insurance program and not reduce its funding, as well as the approval of a commodity program that provides farmers varied safety net options," he said.
"This approach to farm policy will encourage farmers to follow market signals rather than basing planting decisions on anticipation of government farm benefits. Most importantly, the program will be viable because the Senate stood firm on a budget savings level of $24 billion."
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American Soybean Association president and Canton, Miss., farmer Danny Murphy, said the Senate bill will "provide certainty for soybean farmers."
"The bill passed this evening represents many of ASA's priorities and is a critical step toward strengthening the farm safety net, protecting planting flexibility, improving conservation, bolstering exports and feeding our nation's hungry," he said.
National Cattlemen's Beef Association president Scott George, a dairy and beef producer from Cody, Wyo., said in a statement that the Senate bill is important to the industry for many reasons.
"Cattlemen and women have been asking Congress to pass a farm bill which not only provides certainty for agricultural producers nationwide, but also incorporates priorities important to the cattle industry -- there is not a livestock title, conservation programs are maintained and the research title is sustained," he said.
"We are also pleased that disaster assistance programs are included in this legislation which is a positive step toward providing a strong safety net for our producers."
The National Milk Producers Federation lauded the Dairy Security Act included in the bill.
The act would establish a voluntary margin insurance program, allowing farmers to better manage the risks of milk price and feed cost volatility. The measure also features a market stabilization program to improve the cost-effectiveness of the program, helping farmers and taxpayers alike.
Conservation groups like the Senate bill because it links conservation compliance to crop insurance.
The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership said in a statement that the Senate "took a critical step toward implementing policy" that will affect large "swaths of American agricultural lands" as well as millions of sportsmen and landowners.
"The Senate has produced a bill that makes constructive changes to conservation programs, and it ensures that the shift to crop insurance premium support as the primary component of the farm safety net carries with it protection for wetlands, highly erodible lands and native prairie," TRCP Director of Government Relations Steve Kline, said in a statement.
The TRCP pointed to a conservation compliance provision re-linking crop insurance premium support to certain conservation practices and a national sodsaver program to safeguard native prairies, as important measures in the Senate bill.
"The national sodsaver provision in the Senate bill will conserve native prairies, one of the most imperiled ecosystems in North America," said Bridget Collins, agriculture policy coordinator with the Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies.
Ducks Unlimited Chief Executive Officer Dale Hall said that linking conservation and crop insurance is important to saving wetland and grassland habitats.
"A national sodsaver program and re-coupling conservation compliance to crop insurance are tremendous steps forward in slowing the devastating trend of wetland and grassland habitat loss," he said in a statement.
"Our nation is currently experiencing a rate of wetland and native prairie loss not seen since the Dust Bowl. These proactive programs will benefit humans and wildlife by ensuring clean drinking water, lessening the impact of floods, slowing the rate of habitat destruction and keeping working farms and ranches productive."
A number of renewable energy interest groups pointed to key provisions in the bill that support the production of biofuels and other renewables.
Tom Buis, chief executive officer of Growth Energy, said in a statement that funding in the Senate bill will help advance the development of advanced biofuels.
"Specifically, the $900 million in mandatory funding to critical rural energy programs will help provide the certainty investors and businesses need to keep making renewable fuels from diverse feedstocks, from corn stover to woody biomass to municipal solid waste," he said.
"By including programs such as the Rural Energy for America Program, the Biomass Crop Assistance Program, and the Biorefinery Assistance Program, the Senate has reiterated its vote of confidence in our nation's renewable fuels sector."
Bob Dinneen, president and chief executive officer of the Renewable Fuels Association said in a statement that the Senate bill is "forward-looking and positive for America's renewable fuels industry" pointing to the inclusion of programs such as the Rural Energy for America Program, the Biomass Crop Assistance Program and the Biorefinery Assistance Program.
"These programs signal Congress' desire to see more world-class innovation and deployment of ethanol and other renewable fuels into the marketplace," Dinneen said.
Biotechnology Industry Organization President and Chief Executive Officer Jim Greenwood said Senate energy provisions are important in "leveling the playing field" for renewable chemical projects.
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