The U.S. Senate Thursday passed a nearly $1 trillion farm bill.
The version that passed includes two amendments by Democratic Sen. Ron Wyden. One amendment makes it easier for public schools to spend federal dollars on food from local farms for their lunch programs.
“Local schools in Oregon and across the country ought to be able to access the fresh healthy agriculture products in their own communities not in some far away federal warehouse,” Wyden says.
The other amendment sets up a government-backed micro-loan program for gleaners. Those are people who collect food that would otherwise be thrown away to give to the needy. Loans would help gleaners purchase refrigerators and other materials to help in that effort.
Wyden says because more than 250 fruits and vegetables and crops are grown in Oregon, it’s hard to overstate the importance of agriculture to the state’s economy.
“In my view what Oregon does best is grow things. And what we ought to be trying to do is grow things, add value to them and then ship them somewhere,” says Wyden.
But the big change in this bill is the elimination of a direct farm subsidy payment program. Wyden says the effect on Oregon growers should be limited. He says with exception of wheat in eastern Oregon, he state’s farmers don’t receive much in the way of direct subsidies.
Overall the bill targets around $24 billion in cuts over a 10 year period.
Portland-based consumer advocacy group, OSPIRG panned the bill.
David Rosenfeld is the Executive Director. He says even as the Senate cut subsidies, it created an entirely new program, called Agricultural Risk Coverage that he says would primarily serve large agribusiness.
“Even though they made some cuts, they more or less replaced those cuts with new programs that are just as objectionable”, says Rosenfeld.
The bill trims funding for food stamps, but still appropriates $80 billion a year for assistance.
This could prove to be a point of contention when it’s taken up in the House. Republicans there have approved $33 billion in cuts to foods stamps over the next ten years as a way to reduce the federal deficit.
Oregon Democrat, Kurt Schrader serves on the House Agriculture Committee. He says, despite that vote, both Democratic and Republican committee members have made progress in crafting a bill that’s palatable to both sides. But he’s worried about what might happen once the bill leaves the committee.
“I’m very concerned about leadership intervening”, says Schrader. “They seem to be dead-set on this $33 billion figure and that I think is wrong. I don’t think farm country or the nutrition title should bear more than our fair share of the debt deficit reduction”.
The House is expected to take up its version of the farm bill next month.