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Jonathan Knutson, Forum News Service, Published July 11 2013

Farm groups oppose removing food stamps from legislation

Farm group leaders who have worked for two years on a new farm bill had a mixed reaction on whether legislation approved Thursday by the U.S. House is a step in the right direction.

“This legislation isn’t perfect by any means. But at least we moved the ball forward,” said Ryan McCormick, a Kremlin, Mont., farmer and president of the Montana Grain Growers Association.

However, Woody Barth, president of the North Dakota Farmers Union, called the House passage “very disappointing. There are negative long-term implications for family farmers and ranchers and rural communities in general.”

Another critic, Karolyn Zurn, a Callaway, Minn., farmer and a board member of the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association, described the House legislation as “pretty disgusting.”

The House voted 216-208 to pass its version of the farm bill, the centerpiece of U.S. farm and food policy. The legislation doesn’t include funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the new name for food stamps.

Some farm group leaders, including Barth and Zurn, say separating food stamps from the farm bill was a serious mistake. They say combining the two, which has been the case historically, benefits agriculture and connects it with the rest of society.

Thursday’s House vote threatens a long-standing urban-rural coalition in Congress, said Doug Peterson, president of the Minnesota Farmers Union.

There’s already “too much disconnection” between farmers and the rest of America, a problem worsened by removing food stamps from the bill, he said.

Peterson said his “worst-case scenario” is that “urban and suburban people” now will work together against programs such as federal crop insurance that are important to farmers.

Step closer

Other farm group leaders also questioned the wisdom of separating food stamps from the bill, but said House approval was a necessary step in the process.

“We aren’t exactly thrilled with this legislation,” in part because of the separation, said Keith Alverson, a Chester, S.D., farmer. He’s vice president of the South Dakota Corn Growers Association and a member of the National Corn Growers Association board of directors.

But Thursday’s House passage allows the legislation to move forward, he said.

Doyle Johannes, an Underwood, N.D., farmer and president of the North Dakota Farm Bureau, also was unhappy with the separation of food stamps from the farm bill. But House passage removes an important obstacle, he said.

Kevin Paap, a Garden City, Minn., farmer and president of the Minnesota Farm Bureau, said in a news release that his organization opposed splitting the farm bill.

Now, the Minnesota Farm Bureau will focus on having a new farm bill ready for President Barack Obama’s signature by September, Papp said in the release.

The House last month rejected a prior version of the farm bill on a 234-195 vote. Liberals opposed the legislation because it included $20.5 billion in food stamp cuts, while conservatives voted “no” because they wanted more cuts to food stamps.

House Republican leaders later decided to remove food stamps from the legislation.

Reconciliation possible?

The U.S. Senate already has passed its version of the farm bill. The House and Senate versions now go to a conference committee, where lawmakers will attempt to reconcile differences in the two pieces of legislation.

Several farm group leaders said reconciliation may be difficult, in part because many in the Senate are opposed to separating food stamps from the bill.

The farm group leaders also said they’re hopeful, but not necessarily optimistic, that the conference committee will return food stamps to the bill.

“I don’t know what’s going to happen next,” Johannes said. “But I know we still have a lot of work to do on the farm bill.”

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