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Farmers worry over fate of Farm Bill, as GOP, Dems fight over food stamps

Joe White and other farmers in Kane County and elsewhere will be watching Capitol Hill a bit more closely than normal in coming weeks, as federal lawmakers seek to hammer out a new Farm Bill.

“The important thing is to get a Farm Bill, at this point,” said White, of Elburn, president of the Kane County Farm Bureau. “But it will be interesting to see what comes out of all of this.”

In recent weeks, both the U.S. Senate and House have passed versions of a Farm Bill.

The versions have some similarities, eliminating a number of subsidies paid to farmers, said Gary Schnitkey, professor of farm management at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign,

However, the versions also differ.

The House bill would sever the link between the food stamp program and the farm subsidies.

Traditionally, legislation establishing food stamps has been included in farm bills to create a broad base of support, Schnitkey said.

But this year, House Republicans carved food stamp language from the bill.

The move angered House Democrats, who all voted to oppose the bill Thursday.

The move also sets up a showdown with Senate Democrats, who included food stamp language in their version.

White and Schnitkey wondered how the two sides will reconcile when members of both chambers meet to negotiate.

Further, the two sides must work out such details as means-testing for federal support for crop insurance. 

Under current law, all farmers are eligible for federal subsidies equal to 60 percent of their crop insurance premiums.

The policies insure farmers against crop loss. However, the Senate bill would step down that support for farmers with annual adjusted gross incomes of more than $750,000. The House bill does not.

White said he worries such means-testing might prompt wealthy farmers to cut back on crop insurance, raising premiums for smaller farming operations.

“The crop insurance was our mainstay through all of this,” White said. “We’re willing to give up direct payments, but we need that crop insurance.”

Schnitkey said the House bill also would establish permanently the new commodity support programs, “a significant change” from past bills that sunset after 5 years.

The Illinois Farm Bureau opposed the House bill, saying it “would break up the farm bill coalition, eliminate the incentive to write future farm bills and threaten the future viability of crop insurance.” 

The House bill was supported by local U.S. Reps. Randy Hultgren, R-Winfield, and Peter Roskam, R-Wheaton. U.S. Rep. Bill Foster, D-Naperville, opposed the measure.

Hultgren said in a prepared statement that the House bill would save $20 billion over 10 years and it “importantly represents a significant and historic shift to a market-based system of federal assistance.”

The two sides are working against a Sept. 30 deadline to enact a Farm Bill.

The 2008 Farm Bill was scheduled to expire, but Congress extended that law until September.

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