By Amy Klobuchar
Last month the U.S. Senate passed the 2012 Farm Bill on a bipartisan vote of 64-35. This five-year legislation, which sets federal priorities for America's farmers and rural communities, is now pending in the House of Representatives.
As with any kind of major legislation, the final version of the Farm Bill reflects some victories, some defeats and many compromises. On balance, within the limits of current economic and political realities, I believe this legislation is a win for America as well as for Minnesota.
The 2012 Farm Bill will help reduce our federal budget deficit by $23 billion, while maintaining a strong farm safety net and ensuring a safe, nutritious and abundant food supply.
Specifically, it strengthens the crop insurance program, eliminates fiscally-unsustainable direct payments, promotes homegrown renewable energy, maintains land conservation programs and protects nutrition and school lunch programs (which actually account for most of the spending in the Farm Bill).
As a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, my top priority has been to advocate for policies that will further strengthen Minnesota's rural economy and ensure that our farmers continue to have the support they need to thrive and succeed.
I believe the 2012 Farm Bill, as passed by the Senate, does this. The economic stakes can hardly be overstated.
Agriculture continues to be a great economic success story for America. It's one of the few industries in which we enjoy a trade surplus.
In fact, we enjoy a very large trade surplus.
Last year the U.S. exported more than $137 billion in farm products, a record high resulting in a trade surplus of $42 billion.
Agriculture also continues to be a great economic success story for Minnesota. Although we're only 21st in the country for population, we rank fifth for agriculture production.
Nationally, our state is first in turkey production, as well as in sugar beets and green peas. We rank second in spring wheat; third in hogs and soybeans; and fourth in corn.
We're not just talking about economic benefits for farmers in the fields.
Agriculture is a key source of wealth for rural communities and many other industries in Minnesota. Think of grain milling, pork and turkey processing, and ethanol and biodiesel production. Plus, Minnesota is home to some of the best-known brand-name food companies in the world.
Because Minnesota's economy depends more on agriculture than most other states, we've been in a better position to ride out the worst of the economic troubles in recent years. It's one reason why our unemployment rate of 5.6 percent is significantly better than the national average of 8.2 percent.
This wouldn't be true without a prudent federal farm policy that promotes agricultural productivity while also protecting farmers against the risks and uncertainties that can literally destroy their livelihoods overnight.
For Minnesota, the Farm Bill includes several provisions I introduced and fought for:
* Beginning farmers and ranchers (those in their first five years) will have more affordable access to crop insurance by reducing insurance prices by 10 percent and eliminating administrative fees.
* These beginning farmers and ranchers will also be permitted to graze cattle on Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres without penalty to the landowners.
* Pork and poultry producers will see the initial steps toward a policy that, for the first time, will insure them against catastrophic losses.
* The U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Transportation will evaluate rural transportation, including "captive shipping," to ensure that farmers and rural businesses can move their products as quickly and affordably as possible.
Finally, one of the most important features of the new Farm Bill is something that's very simple: continuity.
Every day, farmers must contend with the vagaries of weather, commodity markets and international trade. The last thing they need is a federal farm policy that's also unpredictable.
Yes, the 2012 Farm Bill includes changes; it fixes some of the things that nearly everyone agrees are broken. But overall, the new Farm Bill builds on the success of the 2008 Farm Bill.
Now is the time for the House to pass the Farm Bill and send it along for the president's signature.
Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, is Minnesota's senior U.S. senator.