Today, the U.S. Senate passed the 2012 farm bill on a 64-35 bipartisan vote. The 2012 farm bill contains crucial support for agriculture, food and rural communities, including two key provisions authored by Oregon's Senator Jeff Merkley. One improves crop insurance for organic farmers and the other provides low-cost loans for energy efficiency renovations of homes and businesses in rural areas.
"From wheat in the East to vineyards, berries, and grass-seed in the West, a strong farm bill is crucial for all of Oregon," said Senator Merkley after the vote. "I have said all along that this needs to be a bill that represents Oregon's priorities, and I am pleased that a bipartisan majority in the U.S. Senate came together and supported those efforts. With new support for Oregon's organic farms and low-cost loans for Oregon's rural energy co-ops, this bill is definitely good news for Oregon."
Senator Merkley's organic crop insurance amendment was added to the bill yesterday in a bipartisan vote by the full Senate. The amendment makes crop insurance fairer and more cost-effective for organic farmers. Currently, organic farmers pay an extra five percent organic crop surcharge on their crop insurance and are supposed to receive the organic crop price if they have an insurance claim. Unfortunately, however, the USDA has not done the studies required to set the organic crop prices. Senator Merkley's amendment directs the USDA to collect the necessary data and set the organic crop prices within three years. Oregon has more than 500 certified organic farms.
The Rural Energy Savings Program was authored by Senator Merkley and co-sponsored by Senator Dick Lugar (R-IN). The program allows rural energy co-ops to receive low-cost loans from the Rural Utilities Service (RUS). They then make loans to their customers, who use them to perform energy efficiency renovations on their homes or businesses. This has two advantages. Customers can pay back the loans through the savings on their energy bill. Moreover, energy efficiency renovations are one of the most cost-effective ways to create jobs. This is true because the labor force cannot be outsourced and because more than 90% of the materials used in the renovations are manufactured in the United States. The Rural Energy Savings Program was added to the bill in committee.