WASHINGTON, D.C. — Senate approval of the Farm Bill on Tuesday brought smiles to many in the North Country.
“It’s very exciting and changes our modus operandi,” said Peter Forrence of Forrence Orchards in Peru.
Part of the bill includes the elimination of apple inspections for loads of fruit sent to Canada from the United States.
The inspection law has been on the books since 1933 but has really served no purpose, Forrence said.
The apple industry has been trying to have the law repealed for years.
“If I send a load of apples to Canada and the guy there doesn’t like them, he sends them back,” Forrence explained.
“There really is no need operationally to have them inspected.”
Apple inspections cost between $250 and $300 per load. Forrence said they could ship as many as 400 loads per year to Canada.
“It (the law) should have been changed a long time ago, but I am glad that it’s going to happen now,” he said.
“This will allow us to get a little more for our product.”
The House approved the Farm Bill last week, and the Senate did so Tuesday by a vote of 68-32, ending years of political battling.
The measure will now be sent to President Barack Obama for his signature.
The bill provides a financial cushion for farmers who face unpredictable weather and market conditions. But the bulk of its nearly $100 billion-a-year cost is for the food-stamp program, now known as SNAP, which aids 1 in 7 Americans.
House Republicans had hoped to trim the bill’s costs, pointing to a booming agriculture sector in recent years and saying the food-stamp program, which now costs $80 billion a year, has spiraled out of control.
Partisan disagreements stalled the bill for more than two years, but conservatives were eventually outnumbered as the Democratic Senate, White House and a still-powerful bipartisan coalition of farm-state lawmakers pushed to get the bill done.
The final compromise bill would get rid of controversial subsidies known as direct payments, which are paid to farmers whether they farm or not.
But most of that program’s $4.5 billion annual cost was redirected into new, more politically defensible subsidies that would kick in when a farmer has losses. The food-stamp program was cut about 1 percent; the House had pushed for five times that much.
North Country Congressman Bill Owens (D-Plattsburgh) supported the bill.
“The Farm Bill’s passage provides farmers the long-overdue certainty they deserve and contributes significantly to deficit reduction,” he said in a statement.
“I am confident this bipartisan agreement will help New York agriculture thrive. Family farmers help strengthen New York’s economy, and I am pleased the conference committee recognized the importance of access to credit for family farms, streamlined access to the Canadian market for apple growers and the potential for growth in the maple industry.
“I am also satisfied that the compromise on the dairy title will address price volatility for New York’s farmers.”
Owens called the bill “a remarkable achievement considering the dysfunction that has plagued Washington. The Farm Bill serves as an example of what we can accomplish when both sides come together, and I am hopeful we can continue this momentum through the year.”
‘CRITICAL SAFETY NET’
Clinton County Legislature Chairman Sam Dyer (D-Area 3, Beekmantown), who is a dairy farmer, said the bill meets a lot of needs.
“It’s not a complete win-win, but it’s not a lose-lose either,” he said.
“Everything has to be a compromise, and the dairy farmers, the corn growers, the bean growers, we all got something.”
The New York Farm Bureau said the passage of the bill by the Senate marked a “momentous day for New York’s farmers.”
“The reforms passed in this Farm Bill will provide a critical safety net that truly takes the diversity of New York agriculture into account like never before,” New York Farm Bureau President Dean Norton said in a statement.
“The changes to crop insurance should be seen as an investment in maintaining a reliable food supply in this country when disasters strike, while also savings billions of taxpayer dollars.”
The Farm Bill, he continued, plays a vital role in rural economic development.
“It provides funding to improve the state’s infrastructure to help increase marketing opportunities for farmers while at the same time opening up access to local food for people of all income levels.
“The Farm Bill also enhances conservation efforts and research programs that will improve how we farm and better protect the environment.”
FOR ALL REGIONS
Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) said before the bill passed that she and her House counterpart, Rep. Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), tried to craft a law that would work for all regions of the country, “from traditional row crops, to specialty crops like fruits and vegetables, to livestock, to organics, to local food systems.”
Those incentives scattered throughout the bill — a boost for crop insurance popular in the Midwest and higher subsidies for Southern rice and peanut farmers, for example — helped the bill pass easily in the House last week, 251-166.
House leaders who had objected to the legislation since 2011 softened their disapproval as they sought to put the long-stalled bill behind them. Leaders in both parties also have hoped to bolster rural candidates in this year’s midterm elections.
New York Sen. Charles Schumer (D-Brooklyn) supported the bill.
“After over a year of debate, negotiation and compromise, the Farm Bill has finally been approved and is a win for the family farmers that are at the heart of Upstate New York,” Schumer said in a statement.
“While the final product does not include everything that we fought for, the Farm Bill’s passage was of the utmost importance to New York because it maintains or grows scores of programs for our dairies, fruit and vegetable farmers, maple-syrup producers and rural-development projects.”
NO FROM GILLIBRAND
Some Democrats still objected to the cuts, even though those cuts are much lower than what the House had sought. The Senate-passed Farm Bill included a $400 million annual cut to food stamps.
“This bill will result in less food on the table for children, seniors and veterans who deserve better from this Congress, while corporations continue to receive guaranteed federal handouts,” Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-Brunswick) said. “I cannot vote for it.”
At the same time, some Republicans took to the Senate floor to say the bill doesn’t do enough to trim spending.
“It’s mind-boggling, the sum of money that’s spent on farm subsidies, duplicative nutrition and development assistance programs, and special interest pet projects,” Sen. John McCain (R-Ariz.) said Monday.
“How are we supposed to restore the confidence of the American people with this monstrosity?”
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