Brown backs Senate farm bill effort

As a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee and the Senate Farm Bill Conference Committee, Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, of Ohio, touted the benefits of the Senate farm bill proposal that goes far beyond supporting farmers and their endeavors.

“This is a jobs bill, an innovation bill, a nutrition bill, an economic development bill and the kind of farm bill that a wide swath of people in Ohio support and members of the Senate support,” Brown said regarding the areas of the bill he is interested in tackling as the House and Senate go to conference committee. 

“We are hopeful to see as many of our (Senate) proposals included in the conference report as possible. My goal is to send a bill that earns the broad bipartisan support necessary to go to the president for his signature.”

Twice the Senate has passed bipartisan farm bills before being stalled by the House failing to reach an agreement and only passing an extension of the last farm bill. Brown is optimistic because the House recently passed a partisan farm bill — but it allows the House and Senate to discuss the legislation as it goes to Congressional committee.

Brown said the major issues include cuts to the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), which nearly 1.8 million Ohioans rely upon for assistance. He will not agree to the House version of the bill which wants to reduce SNAP by $40 billion, but he is agreeable to the Senate version which proposes approximately $18 billion in cuts.

He said he believes this program helps farmers and puts money back into the community and he “won’t support a bill that goes after those in need and who are down on their luck.”

The senator from Ohio also consulted Ohio Farm Bureau (OFB) officials, including OFB Executive Vice President Jack Fisher, to determine the best provisions for the farm bill.

“We need a safe, secure, adequate and always interested in an abundant food supply — which is our No. 1 priority,” said Fisher, who participated in the teleconference. “A comprehensive farm bill is part of national policy to achieve all that.”

Fisher said farmers are concerned with the farm bill because they need to know how the safety net, or risk management component, is constructed.

“We need crop insurance, we need reasonable rates to smooth out those years when we have low yields or quality problems,” Fisher said. “We also need commodity programs that are market based. We want to plant and grow food based on what consumers want and not on what the government program is going to pay. Let’s be consumer driven by the farm bill.”

Brown would like to improve and to streamline the farm safety net.

The senator also would like secure more than $150 million for key rural development programs. Brown’s amendment would advance these reforms by setting aside a portion of USDA Rural Development funds for projects that are part of long-term economic growth strategies.

He also would like to build on cultivating markets for farmers and increase the availability of nutritious locally grown food. Provisions of Brown’s Local Farms, Food, and Jobs Act, included in this year’s farm bill, would help Ohio farmers and ranchers sell their products directly to consumers and creating jobs by addressing production, aggregation and marketing and distribution needs.

Lisa Hamler-Fugitt, executive director of the Ohio Association of Foodbank, participated in the teleconference and said during 2013, the total average monthly benefit for a SNAP recipient in Ohio was $132 per person per day, or $4.33 per person per day.

“Passing a farm bill is essential to supporting a key industry in Ohio,” Brown said during his Wednesday media teleconference. “The Senate has passed legislation that is fair to farmers and provides reforms taxpayers deserve.”