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Senate to vote on Farm Bill Tuesday

Debate on the 2014 Farm Bill will start at 2:15 p.m. EST next Tuesday, February 4, according to Senate Agriculture Committee member Tom Harkin (D-IA) and others in the Senate.

The bill's passage doesn't seem to be in doubt after the large majority that voted for the Farm Bill in the House this week. Unlike the House, the Senate has passed two farm bills, both with bipartisan support.

"I think we'll have plenty of votes next Tuesday for it," said Harkin, who was a member of the conference committee that drafted the final language and, like several on the Senate Agriculture Committee, is a past chairman.

Harkin seemed pleased with the final outcome. The bill continues conservation programs that he promoted in the 2002 and 2008 farm bills. The bill also ends the direct-payment program, "which was started in 1996 and was supposed to exist for only four years. We finally got rid of those," he said.

"There's good stuff in the farm bill," Harkin said during a press conference with reporters Thursday.

Harkin, and Senator Al Franken (D-MN) also authored an energy title for the Senate farm bill and succeeded in getting nearly $900 million in funding for those programs (over 10 years). The farm bill passed by the House last summer had an energy title as well, but no funding. House Agriculture Committee member and former chairman, Bob Goodlatte, whose district has a strong poultry industry, has authored several bills to weaken the ethanol mandate, the Renewable Fuel Standard.

Franken said the energy title funds will help support biorefineries that produce advanced biofuels, as well as the feedstocks farmers will grow for those plants. The energy title also has programs that encourage greater energy efficiency on farms.

"Minnesota doesn't have oil, doesn't have gas, but it has a lot of biomass," Franken said.

The bill also provides for programs for beginning farmers, with another $100 million (which is the 10-year spending projection by the Congressional Budget Office).

"It's really important that we invest in the next generation of farmers," Franken told reporters Thursday.

Franken said the bill has disappointments for him as well. He was a supporter of language in the Senate bill that would have trimmed crop insurance subsidies for farmers with more than $750,000 in adjusted gross income for federal income taxes. That was dropped during conference committee negotiations with members of the House Agriculture Committee. But Franken pointed out that the farm bill also ties conservation compliance to crop insurance, which he supported.

"I'm very glad that this bill is finally done," Franken said, reflecting the widespread view that it will pass the Senate and be signed by President Barack Obama.

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