House sends Farm Bill to Senate for approval

A new farm bill is on the horizon.

The Farm Bill was passed by the House of Representatives this week and has been sent to the Senate for approval.

According to Sen. Charles Schumer, who held a conference call, the bill will be a major boost to fruit and vegetable farmers, dairy producers, maple tappers and other agriculture-related businesses in the state.

For dairy farmers, the farm bill’s passing will avert the federal government price-setting products, potentially doubling the price of milk for consumers. Also, the bill would create a new dairy margin insurance program which will lower premium rates for small farms with less than 200 cows.

According to Schumer, D-N.Y., the average herd size in the state is 120 cows, so the majority of the state’s dairy producers will benefit from more affordable premiums – a stronger safety net than the MILC program afforded the dairy industry.

Richard Kimball, president of the Chautauqua County Farm Bureau and local dairy farmer, said there are significant differences between the benefit of the bill to crop farmers versus dairy farmers.

“The crop insurance part of the bill is OK,” he said.

Kimball was not as sure about how the bill will benefit large dairy farms, distinguished in the bill as farms with more than 200 cows. As his dairy farm has nearly 600 cows, he will not benefit from the lowered dairy margin insurance premiums mentioned in the bill.

“We needed to look at how milk is priced – right now it is an antiquated pricing system,” Kimball said, regarding the current supply management system – an opinion notably held by U.S. House Speaker John Boehner.

Congressman Tom Reed, R-Corning, voted Wednesday in support of the five-year bill.

“Thanks in no small part to the input from local farmers and the hard work of the committee, I am very pleased to announce Congress came to a bipartisan agreement that cares for the needs of our farmers – the backbone of our economy,” Reed said. “Passage of a long-term plan for farmers is long overdue and it is only fair we provide them with certainty so they can make decisions for their businesses.”

“This bill is proof that we can care for farmers across the region and country so they can help grow our economy while saving taxpayer dollars by making effective programs more efficient,” he said.

Schumer’s report outlines significant savings for taxpayers by eliminating direct payments to farmers awarded regardless of losses or even if crops were not planted and eliminating more than 100 duplicative programs and authorizations – roughly $20 billion in savings.

The Market Access Program, which will receive sustained funding of $200 million, will provide USDA grant funds to help producers, especially wine and apple growers, export products through promotional and research activities.

The Maple Tap Act, now known as the Acer Access and Development Program, will help maple producers in the state boost production and become more competitive with places like Canada, by making $20 million in USDA grants available to encourage private landowners to allow tapping on their trees. According to Schumer, 85 percent of the world’s maple products come from Quebec, despite New York having roughly three times as many maple trees available – only 1 percent of which are tapped.

The bill would also strengthen the Rural Development grant and loan programs which will help dairy farmers looking to produce artisanal cheese or apple growers looking to produce hard ciders. As well, the bill helps strengthen the connection between rural farmers and urban consumers through promoting farmers markets and food hubs, providing locals access to fresh food.

Agriculture producers focusing on specialty crops such as fruits, vegetables, maple syrup and Christmas trees will benefit from increases or sustained funding for multiple programs.

The bill will also expand crop insurance to include fruit and vegetable growers. Under current USDA law, farmers can develop policies unique to their situations, but the process is difficult and costly, according to Schumer. The new bill will allow farmers to design insurance policies and products that will fit their needs.

Schumer noted his disagreement with the cuts being made to the SNAP program, and his fighting during negotiations to avoid cuts to the program, however he stated that he will fight to undo the cuts in the near future.