The Senate farm bill — all 1,000-plus pages of it — was released jointly Friday by Kansas Republican Senator Pat Roberts, chairman of the Agriculture Committee, and Democratic Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow, the ranking member.
The Senate legislation comes as the farm economy is under pressure and agriculture is in the cross hairs of a growing trade war with China, Mexico and others. The House failed to pass a farm bill last month, due to an immigration squabble amongst Republicans.
"Given the the Senate bill is coming out and going into the markup in a bipartisan fashion means there's a reason to be very pleased and optimistic," said Andrew Walmsley, congressional relations director for American Farm Bureau Federation, the nation's largest farm organization. "We're hoping to break the farm bill free in the House with some type of agreement around immigration."
At the same time, Walmsley defended farm subsidies as a safety net for producers, and added that it helps the rural economy. He also said they are particularly important today, given strains in the farm economy and trade issues.
"I can tell you on the ground, our folks are hurting, are concerned, and you look at all the uncertainty out there from what Mother Nature throws out you to what we're seeing on trade," Walmsley said. "Farm programs that provide risk management are vitally important to provide some certainty these days."
The farm bill is usually renewed every five years, and the current version is set to expire Sept. 30. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) has indicated he wants to get the farm bill through the upper chamber before the July 4 recess.
"Whether it's low prices, over burdensome regulations, or unpredictable trade markets, it's no secret that farmers and ranchers are struggling," Roberts said in a statement Friday. "That's why we need a Farm Bill that works for all producers across all regions. Simply put, our producers need predictability – and that's just what our bill provides."
Purdue University agricultural economist Chris Hurt said net farm incomes are similar to what they were 15 years ago on a dollar basis (not adjusted for inflation). "So if somebody has been working for 15 years, how would you feel if your income was similar to 15 years ago," he said.