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Obama signs $856B farm bill into law: ‘Imperfect bill’ presents options for producers, ND delegation says

Reuters Photo U.S. President Barack Obama signs the farm bill into law at Michigan State University in Lansing, Mich., on Friday. The nearly $1 trillion farm bill trims food stamps for the poor, expands federal crop insurance and ends direct payments to farmers.

President Barack Obama on Friday signed the Agriculture Act of 2014 into law, drawing a positive reaction from North Dakota’s political delegation.

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Making an appearance at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Mich., Obama signed the massive $956 billion farm bill into law following a speech in which he praised small farming operations.

“Farmers and ranchers wanted a farm bill to provide some certainty,” Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said in a statement sent out by her office Friday afternoon. “Today, we can stand proud, knowing the legislation we wrote to support North Dakota’s top economic driver is now the law of the land.”

The final compromised bill — which expands the federal crop insurance program, but ties it to conservation compliance provisions — passed the U.S. House of Representatives last month and the U.S. Senate on Tuesday before Obama made the five-year measure official.

“The farm bill is important not only for our farmers and ranchers, but for every American who benefits from the highest-quality, lowest-cost food supply in the world,” said Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., who was a member of the House-Senate conference committee that negotiated the finished product. “We worked hard to get a long-term bill that provides our farmers with good options for managing risk with strengthened crop insurance and support for our livestock producers while at the same time saving $23 billion.”

Hoeven and others in Washington have spoken often of $23 billion in savings, the Congressional Budget Office calculated a savings of about $16.6 billion over 10 years using a different formula.

One of the main sticking points between Republicans and Democrats was the debate over the funding of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also referred to as food stamps, which was slashed by about $900 million per year in the bill, representing about a 1 percent decrease.

Though the new conservation compliance requirements were generally frowned upon by organizations like the North Dakota Farm Bureau and North Dakota Farmers Union, the materialization of a working farm bill was generally seen as a win for the state’s agriculture industry.

“In the fall of 2011, I was trying to figure out how I could beset serve the state I love,” Heitkamp stated in the release. “Listening to North Dakotans, I continually heard from folks who were frustrated that Washington, D.C., politicians couldn’t work together to move our country forward. Farmers and ranchers were incredibly frustrated with the partisan bickering. This was the reason I wanted this job and why I worked so hard to get this farm bill done.”

Friday’s ceremony featured 50 lawmakers, including Republicans involved in the years-long negotiation process that produced the final bill. But in a possible sign of ongoing tensions with Obama, no Republican lawmakers attended the signing.

“Before I was elected president, I represented Illinois, which is a big farming state,” Obama said during his speech. “Over the years, I’ve seen how hard it can be to be a farmer. There are a lot of big producers who are doing really well, but there are even more small farms, family farms, where folks are just scratching out a living.”

Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., referred to the bill as imperfect Friday in a statement. But, like the senators from his state, Cramer lauded the security it is expected to provide.

“Although it is not perfect legislation, it does give agriculture producers more options when choosing a risk management tool,” he stated. “The farm bill signed today will provide greater certainty for farmers and lenders, and I will continue to monitor issues like wetland mitigation and conservation compliance to be sure this administration is reasonable in its enforcement.”

The farm bill’s energy title will provide $800 million in loan guarantees over 10 years to small manufacturers and biorefineries, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In addition, Obama announced his administration would do more to work with small rural businesses to connect them with potential investors and export markets.

“It was nice to hear the president’s speech prior to signing the farm bill,” North Dakota Farmers Union President Mark Watne stated in an email Friday. “His support for family farm agriculture aligns with our policies. It’s nice to see Congress work together on such important legislation for the food security of our nation.”

Other highlights of the bill included the renewal of the livestock indemnity program, money for agriculture research to enhance crop genetics and production, and a renewal of the sugar program.

“The biggest thing is that we know what the rules are now,” said Doyle Johannes, president of the North Dakota Farm Bureau. “Obviously, we’re going to lose our direct payment, but I think some of that will be rolled into the crop insurance program. I also think we got a good target price on wheat that will be good for the wheat producers of North Dakota. We’ll see how detrimental the conservation compliance changes are, but we’re glad to get the farm bill done.”

Reuters News Service contributed to this story.

Bryan Horwath
A Wisconsin native, Horwath has been covering news in the Oil Patch of North Dakota since 2012. Horwath currently serves as the senior agriculture and political reporter for The Dickinson Press and, despite the team's tendency to always let him down, remains a diehard Minnesota Vikings fan.
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