The Senate Agriculture Committee chaired by Iowan Tom Harkin passed its farm bill today. Harkin says they were able to work within a very strict budget allocation to pass a farm bill he believes is "good for agriculture, good for rural areas, conservation, energy security, and good for better health for Americans." He says they were able to use budget offsets and not do any deficit spending.
Harkin a Democrat, talked about some of the key pieces of the bill. He says the bill includes a new producer income protection program called "the average crop revenue program," which Harkin says gives the farmer an option to switch to the new program, or stick with the old program. Harkin says the new program is a change in attitude and starts moving farm programs in a different direction.
Harkin says the new program gets a start in changing crop subsidy payments. Harkin says he has never been a fan of direct payments to farmers, but says there are still the votes to continue them going. Harkin says the A-C-R is a "major shift toward a new program for farmers." He says there may have to be some bugs worked out of the new program, but by and large thinks farmers will be happy with it.
Harkin says the bill includes one-point-one billion dollars for new renewable energy programs. Harkin says most of that money will be geared toward biorefineries for "cellulose ethanol" and to help farmers transition into growing cellulose crops. He says it also increases food stamp funds and increases the fresh fruit program for schools.
Other Senators are expected to be critical of the bill and say it doesn’t bring real reform. Harkin disagrees. "I would point to the reforms we have in here as the A-C-R, the conservation programs that we put in, the energy title that we put in, I think is a big reform," Harkin says, "and nutrition. The fruit and vegetable program, my gosh, a billion dollars over five years, that’s not chicken feed." Harkin says he expects the bill will get good support when it goes to the full Senate and says he does expect amendments.