Farm bill goes to Senate

By Christina Calloway

PNT senior writer

ccalloway@pntonline.com

As the much-anticipated farm bill moves to the Senate, agricultural producers across the eastern side of the state are optimistic the programs they need will finally be secure, according to a state Farm Bureau official.

The bill, which failed to make Congress’ floor the past two years, had went to conference committee after both houses passed different versions of the bill. Now that the committee has hammered out the issues, the largest one being the disagreement of cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program encompassed by the farm bill, a conference report was published and the House passed the bill Wednesday.

“We’re very excited; after years of working on this to get this out of the House, I have some optimism about getting a farm bill to the president’s desk,” said Matt Rush, executive director of the New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau. “It looks like things are finally coming to fruition for us.”

With the livestock industry being the number one industry for agriculture in New Mexico, Rush said he is excited the bill includes $4 billion for disaster assistance over the next 10 years.

Farmers growing big commodity items such as wheat, corn and soy have always been able to buy crop insurance to help out if they lost their harvest to drought, floods or other disaster. Livestock producers haven’t been able to buy similar insurance until now, said Rush.

The program will provide payments for forage losses due to adverse weather conditions, according to Rush.

“This is a big thing to the livestock industry in our state,” Rush said.

He was also pleased that the bill included funding for agriculture research at universities such as New Mexico State University.

“That affects everyone in every county because of the extension offices,” Rush said.

Not everyone, however, felt they were dealt a great hand with this bill.

Beverly Idsinga, executive director for Dairy Producers of America, said while the bill is better than no bill, she wished she would have seen the conference committee approve a stronger version of the Dairy Security Act.

“Following what has been a very difficult last few years for dairy farmers, we welcome the passage and implementation of these new policies,” said Idsinga in a statement.

Idsinga said she would have liked to see the act include higher premiums for insurance based on a producer’s production level. She said the new version of the act also stripped out any market stabilization.

With eastern New Mexico being a leader in the dairy industry, Idsinga said the act did include a new dairy program which does not discriminate against producers based on the size or location of their operation.

“This is a vast improvement over current law,” Idsinga said.

The program maintains a producer price for milk, which is based on milk prices and herd feed costs, when it falls below a certain price.

Jennifer Talhelm with the press office of Sen. Tom Udall, D-N.M., said though the $8 billion cut to SNAP isn’t popular with Udall and other Democratic senators, the cuts to food stamps should not affect New Mexicans.

“The farm bill cuts the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by $8 billion, up from $4 billion in the Senate but much less than House cut which was about $40 billion,” Udall said. “The cut was reached by closing what some consider to be a loophole that tied LIHEAP (the Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program) to SNAP, which will affect 15 states but not New Mexico.”

Udall said SNAP recipients who qualify for LIHEAP aid also get an additional amount of SNAP assistance. The bill now requires SNAP recipients to get a minimum of $20 in LIHEAP aid in order to qualify for additional SNAP benefits.

In New Mexico, LIHEAP beneficiaries are receiving more than the new $20 minimum, so the change won’t impact who is eligible for additional SNAP benefits here, Udall said.

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