By Senator Tom Harkin
On June 21st, the U.S. Senate passed the Agriculture Reform, Food, and Jobs Act, the 2012 farm bill.  This is an important piece of legislation for our nation, and for the state of Iowa, where agriculture generates about one of every five jobs and is about a fourth of our state's economic output.  This legislation is a balanced, and bipartisan bill crafted under budget conditions that have necessitated difficult compromises.
As a senior member of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee, and its chairman during the writing of the 2002 and 2008 farm bills, I am encouraged that this new farm bill continues vital food, agriculture, and rural programs and adopts important reforms.  A major change is ending the direct commodity payments and replacing them with a revenue protection program similar to the revenue program I worked to include in the current bill.  I have long advocated replacing the direct payments with a more effective and justifiable farm income protection system, and I am very pleased to see this change adopted in this bill.
The bill also continues a strong conservation title to assist farmers who adopt and maintain sound practices to protect soil, water, wildlife, and other natural resources.  I succeeded in increasing conservation investments in previous farm bills and am especially proud of the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP).  The new bill continues and funds highly effective conservation assistance, with reforms and streamlining.
The 2012 farm bill also continues the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and related programs, including increased assistance to food banks that help low-income families put food on their tables.  Children, seniors, and people with disabilities make up more than 60 percent of the recipients of SNAP benefits, with some 400,000 Iowans currently being helped by SNAP.  Although there were changes that limited eligibility and SNAP benefits, these budget cuts were, fortunately, held to much lower levels than were proposed.
Building upon energy titles I worked successfully to craft, this new legislation continues funding to a number of initiatives in energy and biobased products.  Targeted grants and loans promote energy efficiency on farms and in rural businesses and spur expanded research, development, and marketing of renewable energy and biobased products.  I am especially pleased the bill extends and strengthens a requirement I authored requiring federal departments and agencies to give a preference to biobased products in procurement decisions.
The bill also continues and strengthens a number of initiatives begun in earlier farm bills to assist and promote opportunities for farmers and good nutrition for consumers through farmer's markets and increased local production and marketing of food.  These include, competitively awarded USDA grants to improve and expand farmer's markets, roadside stands, community-supported agriculture marketing and other direct producer-to-consumer marketing.  Grants are also included for community food projects and other efforts to improve nutrition and increase fruit and vegetable sales and consumption.
If you would like more information on the farm bill, please visit my website at, view videos I have recorded on the bill, or contact any of my offices in Iowa or in Washington.
A PDF version of the column is available by clicking here

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