Senate approves Farm Bill conference report

By Erin Voegele | February 04, 2014

On Feb. 4, the U.S. Senate approved the conference report for the 2014 Farm Bill by a vote of 67 to 32. The vote was the final legislative action needed before President Obama can sign the legislation into law. Obama is expected to sign the bill soon, ending the nearly three-year process to enact a new five-year Farm Bill. The U.S. House of Representatives approved the bipartisan conference report on Jan. 29. 

“Today, in a strong bipartisan vote, the U.S. Senate came together to pass a comprehensive Farm Bill – legislation that will build on the historic economic gains in rural America over the past five years, create new jobs and opportunities, and protect the most vulnerable Americans,” Obama said in a statement issued by the White House. “This bill provides certainty to America’s farmers and ranchers, and contains a variety of commonsense reforms that my administration has consistently called for, including reforming and eliminating direct farm subsidies and providing assistance for farmers when they need it most.  It will continue reducing our deficits without gutting the vital assistance programs millions of hardworking Americans count on to help put food on the table for their families.  And it will support conservation of valuable lands, spur the development of renewable energy, and incentivize healthier nutrition for all Americans.   As with any compromise, the Farm Bill isn’t perfect – but on the whole, it will make a positive difference not only for the rural economies that grow America’s food, but for our nation.”

Following a procedural vote on Feb. 3 to end debate on the Farm Bill, paving the way for the Feb. 4 final vote, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said, “This is not your father’s Farm Bill.” She noted that by passing the bill the Senate could reduce the deficit and help farmers, ranchers and businesses owners create jobs.

A statement issued by the Senate Ag Committee following the procedural vote also included a statement from Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss., the committee’s ranking member. “The Senate has an opportunity to end the uncertainty that has dogged farmers and consumers for years,” he said. “I am grateful that the 2014 farm bill, with its many reforms and deficit reduction measures, is receiving bipartisan support from all regions of the country.  This legislation was purposely written to ensure that agriculture policies work to strengthen the diversity of the American agriculture sector, to foster conservation and combat nutrition program abuses.”

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., said he was pleased the Senate passed the Conference report. I commend Chairwoman Stabenow and Ranking Member Cochran on their efforts throughout this process. We worked together to give certainty and sound policy to our agricultural producers; deliver taxpayers billions of dollars in savings; and provide consumers the affordable and reliable food supply they have grown accustomed to," he said.

Several biofuel, bioenergy and agricultural associations have spoken out in support of the Senate’s vote. Biomass Power Association President and CEO Bob Cleaves commended Congress for its efforts to pass the 2014 Farm Bill and its Energy Title. “The biomass industry especially appreciates the efforts of Senator Debbie Stabenow of Michigan for her extraordinary support and tireless work in securing mandatory funding for bioenergy, including funding for the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Biomass Crop Assistance Program. This program will promote the use of forestry debris in the production of low carbon energy while strengthening our rural economies,” he said. “The Senate’s broad, bipartisan vote in favor of biomass is gratifying to our members and the more than 15,000 men and women who work in our facilities and rural communities across the nation.”

The Biomass Thermal Energy Council and Pellet Fuels Institute have also applauded Congress for its efforts to pass a Farm Bill with a strong Energy Title. "Biomass thermal energy is a growing segment of our nation's energy portfolio, providing a clean, reliable and efficient alternative to fossil fuels, while fostering job development, particularly in rural areas," said Jennifer Hedrick, executive director of PFI. "The mandatory funding provided by Congress signifies its commitment to this industry and that it is listening to industry advocates on how best to facilitate its growth."

Joseph Seymour, executive director of BTEC, added that the Farm Bill’s Energy Title is one of the few tools available providing parity for biomass heating fuels and technologies outside of comprehensive tax reform. “We look forward to working with USDA in the year ahead to ensure that these programs are implemented efficiently and that they recognize the role of sustainable biomass in supporting our nation's farmers, forest owners, and rural communities,” he said.

Brent Erickson, executive vice president of the Biotechnology Industry Organization’s Environmental Section, noted that the Farm Bill opens up energy programs to renewable chemical technologies that create new manufacturing opportunities and jobs while improving U.S. competitiveness. “The Biorefinery Assistance Program has already helped secure millions in private capital for advanced biofuel projects and will now provide certainty for investors in the renewable chemicals and biobased manufacturing sector,” he said. “By renewing funding for the Biomass Crop Assistance Program and creating a path to insure purpose-grown energy crops against disaster, Congress is also making an important investment in the future of U.S. agriculture. BIO thanks Senator Stabenow for her consistent leadership on the Farm Bill and particularly the energy title. With stable policy over the next five years, this Farm Bill can continue to support economic growth and create employment opportunities in rural communities across the country.”

Growth Energy CEO Tom Buis stressed that the legislation will encourage further development in biofuels by continuing to fund essential programs, such as the Biorefinery Assistance Program, Rural Energy for American Program and Biomass Crop Assistance Program. “The bottom line is that this bill helps create jobs in rural America and advances first and next generation biofuel production that will help improve our environment and reduce our dangerous addiction to foreign oil,” he said. “I hope that President Obama will act quickly to sign the bill into law, and keep our vital agricultural industry moving forward.”