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Farm bill passes Senate, moves to Obama

The 5-year farm bill approved Tuesday by the U.S. Senate and last week by the House contains provisions written by Indiana lawmakers.

A proposal from Sen. Joe Donnelly, D-Ind., and Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., would extend federal disaster insurance to crops used in energy production.

A measure introduced by Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., and co-sponsored by Donnelly would remove acreage planting restrictions on specialty crops, including tomatoes.

Both senators voted in favor of the bill, which passed the Democratic Senate by a 68-32 vote. The Republican House approved the bill Jan. 29 by a 251-166 vote.

National associations representing corn and soybean growers applauded passage of the bill. Indiana is among the leading states in corn and soybean production.

Coats and Donnelly each noted Tuesday that the nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has said the bill would spend $16.6 billion less over 10 years than the previous farm bill did.

If signed by President Barack Obama, the bill would spend $100 billion a year, reduce spending on food stamps for low-income people by $800 million a year and replace direct-payment farm subsidies with subsidized crop insurance programs.

“For a long time, folks have said, ‘Hey, reduce direct payments,’ and we did that,” said Donnelly, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee.

The switch to insurance is more of a free-market approach to risk management, Donnelly said, adding that bank loans to farmers are often contingent on their being insured against losses.

Coats said in a statement that the farm bill “provides Hoosier farmers with the certainty they need for the next five years.”

The bill also would:

•Cap yearly payments and loans to individual farmers at $125,000 a year.

•Create an insurance subsidy to pay farmers for “shallow losses,” or revenue losses incurred before crop insurance kicks in.

•Replace dairy price supports with insurance that pays when the gap between milk prices and feed costs narrows.

•Continue sugar price supports.

•Authorize the Christmas tree industry to create a promotion program funded by a 15-cent fee on each tree sold.

•Prohibit lottery winners, convicted sex offenders and convicted murderers from receiving food stamps.

Asked what he would have changed in the bill, Donnelly mentioned bolstering land and water conservation efforts.

“If we would have had the funds to do that, it would have been nice to do,” he said.

The bill trims the maximum number of acres enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program from 32 million to 24 million and cuts conservation spending by about $400 million a year.

Rep. Marlin Stutzman, R-3rd, voted against the legislation last week, unhappy that House and Senate negotiators had combined agriculture and nutrition programs after the House voted to split them into separate bills last summer. Nearly 80 percent of farm-bill spending is for food stamps.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.