UPDATE: The House passed the Farm Bill Conference Report by a vote of 255-166 this morning. The measure now moves to the Senate for a vote. 

Following years of legislative wrangling and stumbling, a new farm bill has been agreed to by conferees and sent to the Senate and House. A House vote on the bill could come as early as this week. The Senate is expected to vote on the bill in early February.

Considering “the environment we’ve worked in -- the budget situation, the ongoing deficits, the political rancor we’ve had to deal with (in Congress) and across the country -- not only is this a good farm bill, it’s almost a miraculous farm bill,” said Oklahoma Rep. Frank Lucas, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, during a Tuesday morning press conference. “But that’s what farmers, ranchers and consumers needed.”

Don’t underestimate the magnitude of the reforms, said Lucas. Among them:

  • Ending the direct payment program that costs some $4.5 billion annually.

“The old safety net is gone completely.”

  • Moving to an insurance-oriented program.

“Benefits will only be paid out if you have a weather problem or a market failure, things that farmers and ranchers can’t control.”

Included in the bill are two provisions that farmers must choose between. First, a revenue insurance subsidy to help farmers bridge the time between “shallow loss” and a crop insurance check. The second subsidy -- pushed for particularly hard by farming interests in the South -- would provide farmers a subsidy if crop prices plunge.

Check Current Cotton Futures Prices

The bill takes “our cotton friends from the old programs to STAX as part of being compliant with our WTO obligations” Further, said Lucas, the bill places “more money into crop insurance -- not only did we maintain the investment in crop insurance but we plowed some of the direct payment savings back into the enhancement of crop insurance programs.”

  • Consolidation within conservation programs.

By going from 23 to 13 conservation programs at the USDA, $6 billion is expected to be saved.

  • Dairy.

While discussing dairy reforms, Lucas nodded towards House Speaker John Boehner’s robust dislike of supply management, which put him at sharp odds with Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee. In crafting a dairy program, “the three magic words were ‘no supply management,’” said Lucas.

Instead, the conferees settled on a gross margin insurance dairy program “that creates a new way to help protect our dairy friends from the challenges of the market and things they don’t control. Let’s be honest, setting drought issues aside, (agriculture) has had a really good decade. But it’s been a tough decade for dairy farmers. We’re trying to address that.”