Following a late afternoon vote on Monday, the Senate has overwhelmingly passed a new five-year, $955 billion farm bill, 66 to 27. In comparison, the 2012 farm bill passed by the Senate was approved on a 64 to 35 vote.

The Senate farm bill can be read here.

The House, where a vigorous debate over nutrition programs and some farm programs will take place, is expected to take up its version of a new farm bill in coming days. Some expect the bipartisan Senate vote to put pressure on the House to pass the new bill.

Proponents of a new farm bill hope to get a vote on the House floor as quickly as possible so the new legislation can be put before a conference committee prior to the expiration of current law in September.

Prior to the full farm bill vote on Monday, the Senate approved an amendment to bring internet service to rural areas on a 48 to 38 vote.  

Nearly 100 federal programs would be eliminated under the Senate farm bill. The bill also eliminates direct payments to farmers while increasing the importance of crop insurance. It would also cut $4 billion from nutrition programs – far too little for many lawmakers in the House.

Reforming agriculture programs in the Senate farm bill “will save taxpayers billions of dollars while helping Michigan farmers, ranchers and small businesses create jobs,” said Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee. “Because we worked across party lines to streamline programs, we were able to save tax dollars while investing in initiatives that help boost exports, help family farmers sell locally and spur innovations in new bio-manufacturing and bio-energy industries. … Congress needs to work across the aisle to help spur job creation and reduce the deficit. I'm proud that the Senate was able to accomplish that with this farm bill."

In a statement following the bill passing, the committee’s ranking member, Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran said, “American agriculture producers deserve the certainty that comes with a strong five-year farm bill. I’m pleased that we’ve come up with a bill that will meet that need.”

Regarding conservation aspects of the Senate bill, Julie Sibbing, director of Agriculture and Forestry Programs for National Wildlife Federation, was pleased. “In the present climate of kicking the can down the road and paralyzing lack of compromise in Congress, it is refreshing to see members on both sides of the aisle roll up their sleeves and pass a balanced farm bill that ensures a robust safety net for farmers and for natural resources. The House should follow the example.”

Cochran pointed out the legislation consolidates 23 conservation programs into 13 programs and reduces spending on those programs by an estimated $5.6 billion over the next 10 years. The legislation creates greater flexibility for federal and state foresters to meet stewardship, restoration and management challenges.

“This legislation will provide farmers in all regions of the country with a robust and workable safety net, while also reducing by $24 billion dollars the cost of the programs authorized by current law. It will also encourage and reward protection of water, soil and forestry resources,” Cochran said.

As a sign of what tough sledding the House legislation is facing, a coalition of conservative and libertarian groups released a letter sent to lawmakers on Monday. In it, the groups urge the separation of farm programs and nutrition programs in the farm bill.

“Less than 20 percent of this nearly $1 trillion piece of legislation actually contains agriculture-related programs,” the letter reads. “The remaining 80 percent is composed of food stamps -- formally referred to as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). On behalf of the millions of members and supporters of our organizations, we urge you to support efforts to split the bill and allow lawmakers to consider agriculture policy and food stamps funding in separate pieces of legislation.

“In 2000, 17 million individuals received food stamps, but by 2008 that number ballooned to nearly 31 million. Now, nearly 48 million individuals are on the program. Spending on food stamps has doubled since 2008, with taxpayers spending nearly $40 billion on the program in 2008 to an unprecedented $80 billion in 2012. Roughly one in seven Americans are currently on food stamps, reflecting both the expansive growth of government and the troubling dependence of Americans upon it. Out of nearly 80 means-tested welfare programs, food stamps serve as the starkest example of government excess. Nearly everyone agrees that it is time to reform this out-of-control program.”

The letter was signed by representatives of, among others, Heritage Action for America, Club for Growth, and FreedomWorks.

Response

Among statements from other farm groups:

  • The American Farm Bureau Federation.

“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,” said AFBF president Bob Stallman. “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.”

  • National Farmers Union.

“I am happy to see language included that will provide a safety net for family farmers and ranchers, as well as a robust crop insurance program, mandatory energy funding, streamlined conservation programs, additional protections for livestock producers and incentives for locally owned and organic production,” said NFU president Roger Johnson.“NFU urges the U.S. House of Representatives to follow suit with expeditious floor consideration and passage of its version of the legislation. NFU looks forward to working with both chambers of Congress through a conference committee to complete a comprehensive, five-year farm bill before current legislation expires on Sept. 30.”

  • The Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance.

The alliance says the Senate farm bill “includes key specialty crop industry priorities such as research, pest and disease mitigation, trade, nutrition, and other programs help producers to be competitive and meet the needs of American consumers.”

  • The American Soybean Association.

“The Senate has again shown admirable dedication to passing a new farm bill that will provide certainty for soybean farmers and our fellow members of the agriculture community,” said ASA president Danny Murphy, a soybean farmer from Canton, Miss. “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…

“We now turn our attention to the House, and call on Representatives to move the bill quickly through the chamber this month and on to conference with the Senate before the August recess. The version of the farm bill passed earlier by the House Agriculture Committee cuts direct payments as part of $40 billion in total savings, and streamlines more than 100 federal programs.”

  • The National Corn Growers Association.

“America’s farmers greatly appreciate the leadership and bipartisan efforts by the Senate to complete their work on the farm bill,” NCGA president Pam Johnson said. “We also recognize the efforts put forth to address regional concerns to ensure all areas of the country are adequately represented in the final language.”

The NCGA release said the organization “has worked to advance market-oriented reforms in commodity programs to address significant gaps in the farm safety net. The revenue-based Agriculture Risk Coverage Program, designed to complement producers’ individual crop insurance policies, will provide protection against multi-year price and production declines that adjusts with the marketplace. This signature reform, coupled with a strong federal crop insurance program, will result in substantial budget savings for taxpayers and more effective risk management tools for corn growers.”