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Published January 28 2014

Forum editorial: Farm bill looks like done deal

When Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., met with The Forum Editorial Board last week, he was confident a new farm bill would pass the U.S. House by the end of this month and the U.S. Senate would take up the bill the first week of February. Hoeven, who is a member of the farm bill conference committee, had it about right. The committee finished work on a compromise bill this week, and the House is expected to vote today.

It’s been a long time coming. Work on a new multi-year bill has been underway in fits and starts for about two years. During that time, extensions of the old bill expired. Only tweaking and manipulation of existing regulations by USDA have kept farm policy on track. Now, at last, it appears the compromise bill has enough support to clear Congress and go to President Barack Obama for his signature.

The bill has the support of most commodity groups. It looks good for producers and the nation’s huge agribusiness sector. That translates into good news for rural America and the main streets that depend on a steady and strong farm economy.

One of the main sticking points, food stamps, was resolved fairly. The draconian cuts favored by Republicans in the House were scrapped. The Senate’s much smaller proposed cuts were raised. In the end, the compromise is closer to the Senate’s version than the House’s, which means fewer needy households will lose the food security food stamps provide.

On the commodities side, farmers will lose direct payments, which is probably a smart change in the context of perennial criticism of farm supports. In place, a stronger crop insurance title should provide most producers with the affordable protection they need. Of great importance in the Red River Valley, the sugar program is unchanged. And in response to the disastrous snowstorm in the western Dakotas, more livestock producer assistance is in the bill.

A conservation provision won’t go down well with most North Dakota farmers. It links new crop insurance subsidies to land and water protections. Frankly, it should come as no surprise that Congress, as it represents the entire nation, would expect farmers who get taxpayer-supported goodies to accept reasonable conservation mandates.

Not every farm state senator or congressman is happy with every element of the new bill. But, as conference committee member Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said, that’s what compromise is all about. Hoeven, Peterson and conference member Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., have done excellent work. It looks like good legislation for farmers, ranchers and rural economies, and for the nation’s long-term food security. In the current political climate in Washington, it’s a significant win.

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