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Legislatively Speaking
Farm Bill now law

By Gordon Gibson, Legislative Director

  JULY / AUGUST 2008 --

Last month I closed my column with some comments on the 2007 Federal Farm Bill.  Since then Congress renamed the bill as the 2008 Farm Bill, passed the necessary corrections, sent the revised farm bill to President Bush who vetoed it and Congress overrode the President’s veto.  The Farm Bill is now law.  The new law has fourteen major sections, each of which is referred to as a “Title.”  The new Farm Bill addresses all aspects of agriculture, so some parts of it are of major concern to the Northeast while other parts will have very little effect on our region.  Of course this could be said about any region in the United States.
For many years there have been complaints about large farm operations making good profits while at the same time receiving government subsidies.  There have also been complaints about people who are not involved with agriculture receiving subsidies.  Under the new law, farms that have more than $750,000 per year in income and individuals who have non-farm income of $500,000 per year will be ineligible to receive any government subsidies.  The dollar amounts may sound high, but at least it is a start in the right direction.
The new Farm Bill increases the total spending on conservation programs by $7.9 billion.  The conservation programs are designed to protect both farmland and land on farms that should be set aside as protected wetlands.  Funds are also provided to help farmers control stream pollution and preserve the quality of our nation’s water supply, provide wildlife habitat and create an “Open Fields” program to provide public access to private land for hunting and fishing.
The Trade Title, which was inadvertently left out of the original bill sent to President Bush, is designed to provide food assistance and help fight hunger worldwide.  This title increases the ability of the Agency for International Development to stockpile food around the world so it can be delivered faster whenever and wherever it is needed.  This title also creates programs to promote United States agricultural products in foreign countries, similar to the programs to promote local food products created and funded by each state.
The Nutrition Title updates the Food Stamp program to reflect new technology and decrease abuse.  It also changes the name of the program to the “Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.”  The Nutrition Title also expands the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP) which helps many low-income elderly people who are reluctant to apply for food stamps and also expands the Senior Farmers Market Nutrition Program which provides senior citizens with vouchers to buy fresh produce at markets and roadside stands.
The Credit Title increases the amount a farmer can borrow on a guaranteed loan to $300,000.  It also provides for low interest loans for people starting their farm operation.
The Rural Development title addresses health care, emergency and first responder needs in rural areas.  While we may think of some parts of Connecticut as still being rural, we already have most of these services available throughout our state.
Research into new and improved methods of farming has been an important part of the Department of Agriculture’s work ever since it was created in 1861.  This effort is continued under the Research Title of the 2008 Farm Bill.
One of the more important requirements of the entire Farm Bill is in the Livestock Title by requiring all meat and produce to be labeled with the country where it originated.  With modern transportation and handling facilities now available, meat and produce from halfway around the world can be on the shelves in our stores a few days after it is harvested thousands of miles away.  As people are becoming increasingly concerned about the quality of their food, it is important to know where our food is coming from.
Other titles in the 2008 Farm Bill deal with forestry, energy, crop insurance, trading in commodities futures and miscellaneous topics.
Now that the bill is law, the various branches of the Department of Agriculture are revising the rules for existing programs and writing the rules for the new programs so they can be implemented as quickly as possible.


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