The Enid News and Eagle, Enid, OK

February 5, 2014

Editorial: Farm bill leaves subsidies, nixes direct payments

Enid News and Eagle

ENID, Okla. — A collective sigh of relief had to have been heard across farm country this week with final congressional passage of a new five-year farm bill.

The Senate added final legislative approval to the bill, passing it 62-38 Tuesday. President Barack Obama plans to sign the legislation Friday.

Now, agriculture producers finally know what the future holds for them. The drawn-out, years-long process to get a new farm bill had left plenty of questions.

What we do know now is that subsidies will remain, giving producers a financial cushion in the face of unpredictable weather and market conditions, and we know that direct payments — made whether farmers plant a crop or not — are gone. Direct payments will be replaced by two insurance-based subsidies that require producers to suffer losses before they get paid.

As important as the farm bill is to the agriculture sector of our country, the bill is pretty much misnamed, since the vast majority of spending in the legislation goes not to agriculture but to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the official name of the food stamp program.

Of the roughly $100 billion yearly appropriation spelled out in the farm bill, $80 billion annually goes to food stamps. Food stamp spending has ballooned in recent years, and conservatives in the House had fought for $4 billion yearly in cuts for food stamps, while the Senate was holding firm for a $400 million annual cut. The final version included a cut of $800 million a year in food stamp funding.

That cut amounts to around 1 percent of the total spending on food stamps. There was no way the cuts House conservatives wanted were ever going to come about. The Senate, which is controlled by Democrats, and President Obama would not have allowed it. What finally was approved was a compromise that was the best both sides could hope for. As with any compromise, no one got completely what they wanted, and no one is completely happy.

That’s politics for you. However, passing the farm bill was something that needed to happen. Our country’s farmers and ranchers needed to know what they could expect.