Farm bill's impact is unknown

Marie Havenga • Jul 21, 2015 at 1:55 PM

Although they are waiting to dig into details, area farmers and agricultural experts contacted by the Tribune said they are glad new legislation is in place, even though they don’t see much impact on local operations.

Consumers are unlikely to see many changes, either, the farmers say.

The $100 billion-a-year bill, co-authored by Senate Agricultural Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., provides a cushion for farmers who battle unpredictable weather and market conditions. Instead of the federal government paying farmers directly whether they farm or not, as in the past, the $4.5 billion from that program will assist farmers when they suffer losses.

Annual subsidy payments to farmers are limited to $125,000 a year. Some previous programs had no cap limits.

The bill also includes $8.6 billion in food stamp cuts over the next decade — but, according to the Congressional Budget Office, the changes, which close a loophole related to heating bills, will affect only 4 percent of recipients, or about 850,000 households across the nation. Recipients will still receive 100 percent of the assistance their actual expenses call for, but their benefit amounts will no longer be calculated based on heating bills they did not actually pay. No one will lose eligibility because of the bill, according to federal documents.

Leah Rust, director of ministries for Love INC in Grand Haven, said she was not aware of the food stamp cuts included in the bill, but does not expect a lot of changes locally. She said there is a strong local need, no matter what happens on the federal level.

“For our organization, we take it in stride,” Rust said. “We’re so blessed we have such a giving community. The churches really step up and routinely drop off food. There is definitely a need.”

Dave Reenders, owner of Crossroads Blueberry Farm in Robinson Township, said he hopes the nutritional promotional aspect of the bill will bring more attention to the health benefits of blueberries.

Blueberries are considered a specialty crop. Reenders said the bill includes $80 million for specialty crop research and $72.5 million for specialty crop block grants that he hopes could assist some farmers battling pest problems.

Reenders said crop insurance is subsidized by the federal government, but he would not disclose amounts.

According to state agricultural experts, the bill makes crop insurance more affordable for farmers and streamlines the process of obtaining it.

To read more of this story, see Saturday’s print or e-edition of the Grand Haven Tribune.

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