The farm bill, which was signed into law Feb. 7, provides much-needed certainty for farmers making planting and financial decisions, said Alabama Farmers Federation President Jimmy Parnell.
“The farm bill is good news for Alabama agriculture and American taxpayers,” said Parnell. “Since 2012, farmers operated under temporary farm policy with no assurance of what programs would be available in the future for conservation, crop insurance or weather and market disasters.”
The Senate approved the farm bill Feb. 4 by a vote of 68-32. The measure passed the U.S. House of Representatives the week before 251-166.
The bill is the product of a conference committee, which reconciled differences between the Senate version and House farm bill that previously split farm programs from nutrition spending.
More than three-fourths of farm bill spending (79.1 percent) goes to nutrition programs like food stamps. Crop insurance accounts for 9.4 percent; conservation is 6 percent; and traditional farm programs make up just 4.6 percent.
The five-year farm bill cuts government spending by $23 billion over the next 10 years, including $8.6 billion from food stamps. It also does away with direct payments to row crop farmers, while placing greater emphasis on crop insurance.
The bill contains a number of the Federation’s priorities including an amendment introduced by U.S. Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., that makes more farmers eligible for irrigation assistance under the Agricultural Water Enhancement Program (AWEP).
The new farm bill also requires USDA’s Food Safety Inspection Service to inspect foreign and domestic catfish. Meanwhile, the bill provides two options to protect farmers from volatile commodity prices.
Producers can choose between a revenue-based program called Agricultural Risk Coverage and a price-based option called Price Loss Coverage. Both programs use historical base acres, but farmers will be given an opportunity to update those bases.
The bill also creates permanent livestock disaster programs, adds flexibility to conservation programs, invests in agricultural research, reduces food stamp fraud and expands the production of non-food biofuels like cellulosic ethanol.
For more information on federal policy and related news impacting Alabama farmers, follow the blog by Federation National Legislative Programs Director Mitt Walker at AlfaFarmersDC.com.