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Published July 04 2012

Forum editorial: Farm bill good for Minn., ND

The new farm bill that easily cleared the U.S. Senate a few days ago is a reasonable compromise that addresses the nation’s deficit and the needs of agriculture, conservation and nutrition programs. The bill calls for significant cuts in spending but does not abandon the long-standing and successful support for one of the nation’s most important sectors.

The Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012 provides for about $23 billion in savings over the life of the bill – $15 billion from farm programs (mostly by elimination of direct payments to farmers) and $6 billion from conservation programs, including the Conservation Reserve Program. Moreover, the portion of funding for farm programs is a relatively small slice of the overall $3.7 trillion federal budget.

The Senate bill’s emphasis is on a market-based safety net for producers that enhances crop insurance with supplemental coverage. It gives farmers options for insurance that can be adapted to a producer’s circumstances.

It’s an especially good bill for North Dakota and Minnesota farmers and rural communities because of its flexibility to deal with market fluctuations and the inevitable crop losses caused by natural disasters, such as flooding, hail or drought. Among those who worked hard in the Senate to craft a good bill are North Dakota Sens. John Hoeven and Kent Conrad, and Minnesota Sen. Amy Klobuchar. All are members of the ag committee.

While the Senate has done its work well, the fate of farm legislation in the U.S. House is another matter. The Senate bill had wide and deep bipartisan support. The House majority, however, has embraced the budget blueprint of Rep. Paul Ryan, R-Wis. The so-called Ryan budget calls for much deeper cuts in farm, food and conservation spending. Many farm-state Republicans, including North Dakota’s Rick Berg, voted for Ryan’s plan. Berg has yet to satisfactorily explain how his apparently enthusiastic support for the Ryan budget’s slash-and-burn cuts in farm programs comports with legislation that works for North Dakota producers, i.e., the Senate farm bill.

A House-Senate conference committee will cobble together a final bill, likely in the next few weeks. The sooner the better so farmers can plan for next year’s crop within the context of new federal farm legislation.

Forum editorials represent the opinion of Forum management and the newspaper’s Editorial Board.