Senate Gives Final Okay to Farm Bill that Reforms Ag, Nutrition & Conservation Policies and Cuts Spending

Cochran Audio from Post-Vote News Conference:

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, today said the nation will benefit from the certainty created with passage of a five-year farm bill that improves and reforms agricultural policies, while also driving down government spending.

Cochran was among the four principal negotiators who hammered out the Agricultural Act of 2014 (HR.2642) that gained final congressional approval Tuesday in a 68-32 Senate vote that sends the measure to President Obama to be signed into law. The 2014 farm bill is the first major reform of policies for agriculture, conservation, nutrition assistance and agricultural research programs since 2008.

“The new farm bill sets an improved course for U.S. agriculture production, one that should make our farmers and ranchers more competitive as they supply the food and fiber that Americans and people throughout the world have come to rely on,” Cochran said. “I am pleased with the Senate’s strong support for a farm bill that achieves significant savings and addresses a variety of agriculture needs across the country.”

For Cochran, who has served on the Senate Agriculture Committee since being elected to the U.S. Senate, the completion of a five-year farm bill has been a legislative priority.

“Mississippi has a rich agricultural history that we want to grow and improve on. Agriculture and related businesses support the livelihoods of thousands of Mississippi families and communities, and its influence is felt throughout our economy,” Cochran said.

“The challenge of this farm bill has been to work within budgetary constraints to update and improve agriculture policies for the entire country, while setting the stage for all aspects of agriculture and conservation in Mississippi to excel,” he explained.

The new farm bill was developed over several years, but gained momentum after Cochran assumed the ranking member position on the Senate Agriculture Committee in January 2013. Cochran said the new farm bill addresses his concern that federal agriculture policies should meet the diverse needs of producers from various regions who face different risks when producing food and fiber for the nation.

In order to stay within budgetary constraints, the bill repeals the direct payment system. However, it replaces direct payments with two new commodity programs designed to protect farmers from price and revenue declines, while strengthening crop insurance programs to give producers of all crops a choice of new risk management tools.

“We are recommending reforms in this legislation that are designed to provide a safety net that will support producers when they are struck by disasters or other things that are out of their control. Marketing disasters are just as severe as weather-related disasters. The risk management policies in the bill recognize the regional differences and priorities of agriculture production throughout the country,” Cochran said.

“The commodity and crop insurance titles of the conference report reflect how Congress can work effectively to support American agriculture and at the same time be responsible to taxpayers,” he said.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates the bill will save taxpayers nearly $17 billion. The bill achieves $8 billion in savings from the nutrition title of the bill–double the level of savings recommended in the farm bill passed by the Democratic-controlled Senate last year. The farm bill baseline was also trimmed by $6 billion from sequestration, resulting in an overall savings of $23 billion.

Cochran also praised reforms to federal conservation programs. The 2014 Agricultural Act consolidates 23 existing conservation programs into 13 programs, an action that would reduce spending by $6 billion. The reforms add flexibility while improving the effectiveness and efficiency of conservation programs. This title of the bill is supported by nearly 650 conservation organizations from all 50 states.

Nearly a third of all jobs in Mississippi are linked to agriculture and forestry, which generated more than $7.3 billion in 2013. With more than 42,000 farms and roughly 30 million acres of farm and forestland, Mississippi’s agricultural sector contributes to more than 20 percent of Mississippi’s total economy.

Highlights of the five-year bill that will affect Mississippi’s diverse agricultural sector include:
• Producer Choice offers producers options for managing their risks through counter-cyclical risk management tools based on price or revenue protection (Price Loss Coverage or Agriculture Risk Coverage).
• Crop Insurance reforms that create a stacked income protection program (STAX) for producers of upland cotton and a Supplemental Coverage Option (SCO) to protect farmers from revenue losses.
• Trade programs, such as the Market Access Program, are reauthorized to help increase U.S. agriculture product exports. Mississippi exported $1.3 billion of agriculture products in 2012, and these programs will help producers continue to reach new overseas markets.
• Forestry programs that benefit federal, state and private forest land in Mississippi are reauthorized, including permanent authorization to the U.S. Forest Service for Stewardship-End Result Contracting projects. The bill also clarifies that forest products are included in the Biobased Markets Program.
• Conservation reforms will allow continuation of regional partnerships that have been beneficial in watersheds with significant water quality concerns such as the Mississippi River Basin and Gulf of Mexico. The consolidation of conservation programs will also help farmers and rancher improve wildlife habitat and address natural resource concerns on working lands.
• Rural Development provisions reauthorize support for a grant and loan programs to assist in developing water, wastewater and waste disposal projects in rural communities.
• Agriculture Research programs are reauthorized, including those important to research carried out at Mississippi universities: Agriculture Research Service (ARS) and the Land Grant University formula funds (Hatch Act, Smith-Lever, and McIntire-Stennis).
• Catfish Inspection program, authorized in the 2008 farm bill, is clarified to clear the way for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to implement a food safety inspection program that requires all producers and processors of catfish, at home and abroad, to abide by the same food safety standards.
• Nutrition reforms save taxpayers $8 billion while strengthening tools to fight waste, fraud and abuse of food assistance programs. The bill provides significant support for food banks and hunger relief organizations, such as church pantries or local food cupboards).

• Cochran floor speech, Feb. 4:
• Mississippi Highlights:
• 2014 Agricultural Act – Conference Report:
• 2014 Agricultural Act – Statement of the Managers:

US Senator Thad Cochran Press Release