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Broad farm bill support

DANIEL LOOKER Updated: 01/29/2014 @ 12:06pm Business Editor

The 2014 Farm Bill is approaching the finish line with widespread cheers -- and some notable jeers from a coalition of meat packers and livestock commodity groups.

Two of the nation's largest farm organizations, the American Farm Bureau Federation and Farmers Union, did not succeed in getting their own versions of a commodity program accepted by either the House or Senate Agriculture Committees. Yet both are supporting the bill's passage.

"That's what a farm bill is all about, is compromise," veteran Farm Bureau lobbyist Mary Kay Thatcher told Agriculture.com Tuesday. The current bill was written in a starkly different fiscal environment from those of 2002 and 2008. Agricultural groups knew that at least $20 billion would have to be cut from the 10-year congressional budget office estimate of the current bill's cost, she said.

"We knew that virtually everybody was going to have to give something," Thatcher said. "What the vast majority of producers told us was, 'Do all you can to protect commodity programs but above all else, protect crop insurance.' "

And the bill does that, she says. The premium subsidy for enterprise units is made permanent in the 2014 bill. It adds an extra 10% premium subsidy for insurance purchased by beginning farmers. And it provides separate enterprise unit coverage for irrigated and nonirrigated crops.

Farmers Union President Roger Johnson's first reaction was positive in a statement released Monday evening, even before the NFU board had a chance to read all of the bill.

"I am encouraged to see provisions that benefit family farmers and ranchers in the bill, including approximately $4 billion in livestock disaster funds, retroactively available to those who suffered tremendous losses last October," he said in a statement. "It increases access for livestock producers to Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) benefits, along with many other supportive policies for the livestock industry."

"NFU is happy that Congress did not make any legislative changes to the Country-of-Origin Labeling (COOL) law or major adjustments to protections for producers under the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA)," he added.

That contrasted with the view of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association (NCBA), which said Wednesday that it opposes final passage of the farm bill, which will be considered by the House of Representatives Wednesday.

"We are calling on Congress to fix the mistakes they have made, mistakes that are costing cattlemen and women money every day. Mistakes like Mandatory Country-of-Origin Labeling, which has already resulted in steep discounts to our producers and caused prejudice against our largest trading partners. This program was created without the consent of producers and has been a failure by every measure," NCBA president Scott George said in a statement. "We are disappointed in all members of Congress and especially the members of the Conference Committee for allowing this process to go this far without a solution. Failure to fix MCOOL at this juncture will lead to retaliatory tariffs on a host of commodities, and it is only a matter of time before the World Trade Organization rules in favor of Canada and Mexico. Once that happens, producers will realize the full costs of this failed legislation."

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