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Farm bill is backed
SNAP, subsidies, milk prices at risk in measure

Monday, December 9, 2013

By BEN R. WILLIAMS - Bulletin Staff Writer

Although congressional negotiators are divided on a five-year farm bill, area legislators favor its passage.

According to Associated Press reports, negotiators are trying to reach an agreement on the bill, which is slated to expire at the end of this year after an earlier extension. The farm bill affects Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits (formerly known as food stamps), farm subsidies and milk prices, among other things.

According to AP reports, if dairy subsidies that are part of the bill expire Jan. 1, laws will go into effect that could lead to decreased dairy supply on the commercial market and higher prices for a gallon of milk.

Fifth District U.S. Rep. Robert Hurt, R-Chatham, hopes that the farm bill will be reauthorized before the end of the year.

“It’s in conference,” Hurt said. “I’m not on the conference committee, but my understanding is it’s not the food stamps that are the holdup, it’s the farm portion.”

Hurt said one element of the farm bill that is particularly important to his district is crop insurance.

Farmers, he said, “can participate in a program whereby they get their crops insured against catastrophic losses. When there are crop losses, they’re often horrific. There are government programs to subsidize the insurance, and I think that’s a very valid government program.”

The stereotypical family farm now is uncommon, Hurt said, because farming has changed so much over the years.

“There are fewer farms, but there are still a lot of farms,” he said. “They’re bigger and more diversified. Agriculture and forestry together are the largest sector of the Virginia economy. The 5th District is primarily agriculture and forestry.”

“We have time between now and the end of the year” for the bill to be reauthorized, Hurt said. “It’s very regrettable that it goes to the last minute … it’s not unusual in Washington, unfortunately.”

Ninth District U.S. Rep. Morgan Griffith, R-Salem, also said that he favors the bill’s passage. He added that it’s difficult to say whether the bill ultimately will pass or not, although “I know Chairman (Frank) Lucas (of the Agriculture Committee) is optimistic.”

“In Washington, things can look optimistic one day and bleak the next, and vice versa,” he said, but he remains hopeful the bill will pass.

Griffith also said he believes all areas of the bill are important to Virginia, but due to the state’s large agriculture base, “I think it probably is most important to the district that we have a clear farm policy.”

Sen. Tim Kaine, D-Va., is also in favor of the speedy passage of a farm bill, according to a statement.

“Earlier this year,” the statement reads, “the Senate passed a farm bill that balances important cost-cutting measures with smart, targeted investments while transitioning away from direct farm subsidies. The uncertainty surrounding the farm bill has made it hard for farmers to plan for the future and threatens to increase grocery bills for American families. Virginia’s agriculture and forestry community deserves the certainty of a full five-year bill, and I urge the farm bill conference committee to swiftly reach an agreement.”

Kevin Hall, a spokesman for Sen. Mark Warner, D-Va., said, “Sen. Warner is hopeful that House and Senate negotiators will complete their work and reach an agreement on the Farm Bill.”


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