5 things to know about the massive farm bill

The massive, five-year farm bill heading toward final passage this week has broad implications for just about every American, from the foods we eat to what we pay for them.
AP Wire
Feb 4, 2014


Support for farmers through the subsidies included in the legislation helps determine the price of food and what is available. And money for food stamps helps the neediest Americans who might otherwise go hungry.

The legislation could reach President Barack Obama this week. The House already has passed the bipartisan measure and the Senate was scheduled to pass the bill Tuesday after the chamber voted to move forward on the legislation Monday evening.

Five things you should know about the farm bill:


Most of the bill's almost $100 billion-a-year price tag goes to the nation's food stamp program, now known as SNAP, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. One in seven Americans, or about 47 million people, participates in the program. The legislation cuts food stamps by about $800 million, or 1 percent, by cracking down on states that seek to boost individual food stamp benefits by giving people small amounts of federal heating assistance that they don't need. Much of the rest of the money goes to farm subsidies and programs to protect environmentally sensitive lands.


Farmers will continue to receive generous federal subsidies that help them stay in business in an unpredictable environment, but through revamped programs. The bill eliminates a fixed $4.5 billion-a-year subsidy called direct payments, which are paid to farmers whether they farm or not. New subsidies would require farmers to incur losses before they could collect from the federal government. The bill would also overhaul dairy and cotton subsidies and transition them into similar insurance-style programs. Most farmers would pick between a program that would pay out when revenue dips or another that pays out when prices drop.

The legislation would also spend about $570 million more a year on crop insurance, which, on top of subsidies, protects farmers in the event of major losses.

CRACKDOWN ON FOOD STAMP FRAUD: The Agriculture Department has been aggressively tackling food stamp fraud in recent years and the final farm bill will add to that. It would step up efforts to reduce fraud by retailers who sell food stamps, track SNAP trafficking and ensure that people who have died do not receive benefits. The bill would also prohibit lottery winners and convicted murderers and sex offenders from receiving food stamps.

HEMP LAWS RELAXED: The bill would allow farmers to grow hemp, marijuana's non-intoxicating cousin, in 10 states as research projects. Those states already allow the growing of hemp, though federal drug law has blocked actual cultivation in most.

Hemp is often used in rope but has also been used to make clothing, mulch, foods, creams, soaps and lotions.

VICTORY FOR ANIMAL RIGHTS GROUPS: The No. 1 farm bill priority for animal rights groups was to defeat a House provision that would have blocked an upcoming California law requiring all eggs sold in the state to come from hens that live in larger cages. Livestock groups have fought the state law, which will be a major burden for egg producers in other states who use smaller cages and still want to sell eggs to the lucrative California market. The animal rights groups won, and the provision blocking the California law didn't make it into the final bill.

The animal rights groups also won language that will make it a federal crime to attend an animal fighting event or bring a child to one.



Former Grandhavenite

I have some relatives who own and operate a fairly large commercial farm, and they're quite right-of-center politically with a general hatred for the federal government. Yet, strangely enough, they don't boycott the millions they've collected in farm subsidies or crop insurance discounts. At the same time, naturally, they think that welfare, medicare, and social security are all wealth-transferring scams.

I support that California law requiring larger cages for chickens. If you've ever toured the inside of a gigantic commercial chicken farm it's heartbreaking to see the birds not even having enough room to stand up or turn around in their cases. They also tend to peck and fight with each other because of the stress, and they constantly have to be fed a diet of hormones and antibiotics just to survive such an unhealthy environment. Even if you didn't care about animal rights at all, you should care about this issue if you ever eat chicken or eggs.


Eat more fish, they feed themselves

Former Grandhavenite

Yeah fish does tend to be better for you in a lot of ways, not to mention being extremely tasty a lot of the time. The wild caught ones are quite a bit healthier than the farmed ones.

The problem is that so many of the best tasting fish are the larger predators high up the food chain. One time I marinated some swordfish steaks in coconut milk and other spices overnight, then threw them on the grill and it was incredible. Too bad swordfish is one of the ones you're not supposed to eat very often because they accumulate heavy metals and all the other crap by virtue of being higher up the food chain. Sushi and sashimi are also some of my favorite foods and they're huge here on the east coast, but between the high prices and worries about mercury levels I don't eat much of it.


I understand prohibiting lottery winners from getting food stamps, but why specify murderers and sex offenders, other than to score political points by continuing to punish the already punished?

Former Grandhavenite

Agreed. As if the risk of ex-cons returning to crime wasn't already bad enough- we have to nudge them in that direction even more. You've got to eat somehow, and if you can't get a job because of a lengthy criminal record, and can't get food stamps either, there aren't a whole lot of options left besides crime to bring in a few bucks or simply shoplifting the food directly.

Barry Soetoro

OK how about you two go ahead and write the checks for that.

Former Grandhavenite

It's very unappealing to think that our money is supporting ex-cons' food stamps, but what's the alternative? If we don't write the checks for food stamps, we're going to be writing the checks for extra police presence, higher insurance premiums due to break-ins, etc. The reality is that people are going to find a way to eat somehow and if there's a better solution I'm all ears.

Barry Soetoro

I just gave you the solution. Besides it specifies murderers and chomos - not all "ex-cons".

Former Grandhavenite

Ahh ok, you're saying that people who want them to get food stamps should personally have to pay extra taxes to fund the food stamps, and everyone else can opt out if I'm understanding you correctly? Interesting idea. I think the government would be very reluctant to open the door to the idea that you can opt out of paying taxes to support programs you don't like. In that case I'd be more than happy to de-fund a lot of programs and I'm sure a lot of folks would be too!

Barry Soetoro

Is that really what you got from my comment or are you just throwing the troll line out there?

Former Grandhavenite

I guess the only alternative is to take your comment extremely literally and assume that you aren't talking about any actual Agriculture Department policy which is the focus of the article, but you instead want me PERSONALLY to break out my checkbook and somehow write a check to each of the individual ex cons collecting food stamps. How would the logistics of that even work? If your comment was meant literally I don't think you quite understand how government programs are funded or how food stamps work. I honestly don't understand if that's what you were suggesting in your original comment though, so please correct me if I'm wrong.


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