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President signs farm bill

President Barack Obama traveled to East Lansing, Michigan Friday to sign the Agriculture Act of 2014, the Farm Bill, at Michigan State University's equine performance center. He was accompanied by Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, other Democratic senators and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack. Obama also visited a biotechnology plant.

In his remarks before signing, Obama described some features of the Farm Bill, including its support for hospitals, schools, and rural communities as well as cutting edge biofuels. He also said the bill closes loopholes that allow people to receive payments year after year, even if they didn't farm.

Although the farm bill passed both the House and Senate with strong bipartisan majorities, no Republican members of Congress attended. According to White House pool reporter Dave Boyer of The Washington Times, Obama's Press Secretary, Jay Carney, said that some 50 lawmakers, including many Republicans, were invited.

"Look, this was a bipartisan effort and everyone involved in it deserves credit," Carney said. "The president is happy to share credit for that."

Yet, the final success of the farm bill trumped politics, with farm and conservation groups welcoming the signing.

"This new five-year farm bill means certainty and stability for farmers. It means food on the table for hungry families. And it means taxpayers will save money," said National Corn Growers Association President Martin Barbre. "We thank President Obama for signing this important legislation and we stand ready to work with the Administration and communicate the value of this new law for our growers and those they help feed and fuel. Because of its very topic – food and the farms that provide it – this is one of the most important pieces of legislation Congress has passed in some time."

NCGA pointed out that the bill:the bill:

- Eliminates controversial direct payments while maintaining decoupled farm support programs that will minimize the possibility of planting and production distortions that could trigger new World Trade Organization challenges.

- Allows producers to either maintain existing crop acreage base or to reallocate their current base to reflect average acres planted to covered commodities in 2009-2012, a reform that will make programs more relevant and more defensible while not tying them to current-year plantings.

- Consolidates 23 previous conservation programs into 13, and focuses conservation efforts on working lands. It also ties conservation compliance for wetlands and highly erodible land to premium support for crop insurance.

- Maintains authorizations for important agricultural research programs, including AFRI, as well as including a new Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research that will provide a structure and mandatory funding for new public/private partnerships and investments that will further USDA’s research mission.

- Maintains authorizations and funding levels for export promotion, including the Foreign Market Development (FMD) Program and the Market Access Program (MAP).

- Continues the combined authorization of both agricultural and nutrition programs, a linkage that has been essential in enacting every farm bill since 1974.

Already, key members of Congress were focusing on how the USDA will put the new law into effect.

Senator Thad Cochran, the ranking Republican on the Senate Agriculture Committee said in a statement that he "looks forward to 2014 Farm Bill implementation."

"Implementation of the 2014 farm bill will create opportunities for farmers, ranchers and foresters to improve American agriculture," Cochran said. "Producers and consumers of food and fiber will benefit from the reforms included in the new law, as well as from the certainty it provides. The new farm bill is an important achievement, particularly for the rural communities that sustain agricultural production in Mississippi and throughout the country."

And the House Agriculture Committee Chairman, Frank Lucas (R-OK), could at last issue a final press release to say that "I am pleased we have a new farm bill in place to provide certainty for the next five years to America’s farmers, ranchers, and consumers, and I appreciate the efforts of everyone who helped make it possible."

"The amazing reality about farm bills is that they reflect the times in which we live," Lucas said. "They are reviewed, written, debated, and reauthorized nearly every five years. Today our concerns are rightly placed on reducing the size and cost of the federal government. With the president signing the Agricultural Act of 2014 into law, we mark a new era of farm and food policy that values saving money, reforming or repealing government programs, and yet still providing an effective safety net for the production of our national food supply and for those Americans who are struggling."

The White House, too, listed here the ways the farm bill will reduce federal spending and strengthen the economy.

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