Farm Bill Exhaustion?

What may have been lost in the farm bill coverage hype

Media coverage of the Senate 68-32 passage of the 2014 Farm Bill Tuesday has been somewhat muted. Perhaps the media is suffering from "Farm Bill Exhaustion," one commodity group stated. 

Coverage from network news on Tuesday evening was almost non-existent. Late in their broadcast, NBC Nightly News devoted about 10 seconds to the story and categorized the bill as "cutting subsidies."

It appears neither CBS nor ABC covered the bill's passage, instead relying on an AP article on their respective websites.  On Monday evening, CBS ran a longer story about the Farm Bill that was highly negative with a naïve interpretation of the bill and featuring a spokesperson from the group, Citizens Against Government Waste.

On the whole, coverage skews negative because of mischaracterization of insurance programs as subsidies and the changes that came to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) eligibility.  

Beyond the return of functioning government by garnering support in the middle, here’s some notables that may have gotten lost in the muted coverage.

Crop insurance
If you think crop insurance got cut, think again. The bill invested an estimated $6 billion more in the crop insurance title over the next 10 years that will expand coverage to new crops as well as types of coverage.

The first generation of crop insurance protected against yield; the second in the 90s moved to help cover revenue losses. The new generation which will be expanded in this bill to crop producers will offer margin insurance options, explained David Graves, lobbyist for the American Assn. of Crop Insurers.

In the last farm bill livestock producers were offered margin products and every year it was oversubscribed. Dairy producers often took advantage of it which also lends well to the new dairy margin insurance program that will replace the Milk Income Loss Coverage program.

The bill makes promising investments in agricultural research programs, including the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) and $200 million of seed money for the new Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR).

Unfortunately, the new farm bill will continue to make it harder for non-profit research organizations to successfully compete for federal research dollars. The bill will require NGOs and private research institutions to provide 100% match on all competitive research grants, while exempting higher capacity public universities, explained the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition.

The Agricultural Act of 2014 consolidates 23 existing conservation programs into 13 programs while strengthening tools to protect and conserve land, water and wildlife. By streamlining programs, the farm bill provides added flexibility and ensures conservation programs are working for producers in the most effective and efficient way – an approach supported by nearly 650 conservation organizations from all 50 states. These reforms increase resources for top priorities while reducing the deficit by $6 billion.

It also reduces the Conservation Reserve Program acreage cap from 32 million acres to 23 million acres. The committees also more precisely defined environmentally sensitive land for enrollment in the CRP, an improvement a long time coming.

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