After months of delays, federal farm bill finally passes committee

Christopher Vondracek, Star Tribune on

Published in Business News

After six years, the Farm Bill finally hit Washington D.C. on Thursday, but the reception wasn't the bipartisan welcome the giant food and farm spending legislation historically receives on Capitol Hill.

After 12 hours of debate, the House Agriculture committee passed the $1.5 trillion, 1,000-page bill by a 33-21 margin largely along party lines, with only four Democrats in support of the measure. The once-every-five-years law funds a tranche of federal initiatives, from anti-hunger efforts to crop insurance, conservation programs and broadband expansion.

The bill, which Republican Ag Chairman Glenn "GT" Thompson of Pennsylvania authored, will have an uphill climb to advance without more Democratic buy-in, especially in the U.S. Senate. Minnesotans on the committee were divided on the bill's provisions.

Rep. Brad Finstad — who represents a large swath of southern Minnesota encompassing corn and soybeans farmers, pork producers and dairies — touted the production agriculture programs federal investments bolstered, including a provision that would nullify a California hog welfare law that has upset pig farmers in the Upper Midwest.

"Our legislation will protect producers that I represent from other states' use of political science to mandate wrongheaded protection standards," Finstad said in his opening remarks to the committee.

The first-term Republican lawmaker from New Ulm said the bill represents the "priorities of farmers in southern Minnesota" and not "D.C. bureaucrats." But Rep. Angie Craig, the Democrat whose swing-district is split roughly half between suburbs and cornfields, voted against the legislation and called it a "partisan" bill.

In her opening comments, Craig invoked the oil painting of former Ag chairman and Minnesota congressman, Collin Peterson, criticizing the measure for reverting nutrition payments to levels not seen since the 1990s.


"Unfortunately, the bill the majority has presented us today ignores the political realities of this congress and the needs of the farmers I represent," said Craig, knocking the measure for favoring "southern commodities at the expense of Midwest row crops."

The Farm Bill, initially set to expire in September 2023, earned a year-long extension from Congress and the Biden Administration. Sen. Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, the Senate Ag chairwoman, has released a blueprint for her bill, but has not yet announced a mark-up.

In addition, a dispute about funding levels for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — formerly known as food stamps — is ongoing, mostly focused on spending for conservation dollars.

While Democrats had pushed to protect so-called "climate-smart" funds the Inflation Reduction Act earmarked, Republicans have sought to repurpose the monies for a wider range of conservation programs, including those that do not necessarily lead to a reduction in greenhouse gases.

The state's agriculture associations — from corn farmers to sugar beet growers, timber harvesters and rural development offices — watch the twice-a-decade farm bill, as does the fledgling hemp industry. The current House version would ban hemp-derived cannabinoids, but it would ease the regulatory process for industrial hemp-growers.

"This is an agriculture product, and we want to stick on the ag-side of these end-use markets," David Ladd, president of the Minnesota Industrial Hemp Association said before the vote. "We need to establish a solid framework for this sector."

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