The 2013 Farm Bill passed the United States Senate today with several provisions authored by Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee.
The bill reforms farm policy to better support farmers and ranchers, consolidates and streamlines programs, and would reduce the deficit by $23 billion. It passed with a broad, bipartisan vote of 66-27.
Bennet helped craft the bill using input he received from dozens of listening sessions and meetings held throughout Colorado.
"A full 5-year farm bill is long overdue. Colorado producers are hard at work every day doing their jobs wondering what's taking Congress so long to get its own job done," Bennet said. "Hopefully this year the House will also pass a Farm Bill, and our farmers and ranchers will finally have the certainty they need."
The Farm Bill, which governs our national agriculture, nutrition, private lands conservation, and forestry policy, is supposed to be reauthorized every five years. However, the 2008 bill expired and has been operating on a short-term extension ever since.
Agriculture adds $40 billion to Colorado's economy every year, making this bill particularly relevant to Colorado. The bill also supports other vital industries and priorities in the state, many of which through the increased focus on conservation. Tourism is another major economic driver as the state's second largest industry. In addition to the outdoor recreation industry, Colorado's natural beauty and quality of life also serves as a top recruiting tool for employee and business recruitment. The bill also serves to help address the effects from a historic drought and last year's catastrophic wildfires.
The bill maintains Bennet's priorities he secured in last year's version of the bill, including measures to give farmers and ranchers more incentives and opportunities to enter into conservation easement agreements. Bennet simplified and enhanced the process by consolidating the number of programs and adding flexibility that will allow more landowners and producers to enter into easements. The bill also maintains the Rural Energy Savings Program (RESPA) Act, which Bennet helped previously introduce, a strengthened federal crop insurance program that expands the kinds of crops that are covered under the program, and an emphasis not only on water quality but also water quantity as a priority for the Natural Resources Conservation Service.
"This bill includes an array of tools and resources to maintain the beauty and heritage of the state in addition to bolstering our economy and strengthening rural communities," Bennet added. "From stronger crop insurance programs to more robust conservation opportunities, to a focus on water quantity, the 2013 Farm Bill will help our farmers, ranchers, small business entrepreneurs, land managers, and community food organizations succeed."
During work in the Agriculture Committee this year, Bennet secured several additional key priorities that improve programs important to Colorado producers. As the chairman of the Subcommittee on Conservation, Forestry and Natural Resources, Bennet worked to develop a forestry title that will help maintain healthy forests in our state. It includes two bills Bennet previously introduced -- the National Forest Insect and Disease Treatment Act and the Permanent Stewardship Contracting Authority Act -- that will help Colorado boost forest health and wildfire prevention efforts.
Other key provisions Bennet successfully included in the bill are:
The Animal and Public Health Protection Act, which provides a more stable flow of resources for the National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN), which monitors animal-borne illnesses that pose significant threats to animal and public health. Colorado State University houses one of NAHLN's core laboratories.
An amendment to establish the Farm Animal Integrated Research Initiative (FAIRI), which would award competitive grants for critical animal science research priorities like food security, the intersection of human and animal health, and environmental stewardship.
A provision to improve the ability of farmers and ranchers to establish conservation easements on their land by waiving the non-federal cost-match requirements for conservation easements of "special significance," such as to protect critical wildlife habitat or historically important agricultural land.
An amendment that would give farmers and ranchers of organic products the opportunity to work with the Department of Agriculture to establish a research and promotion order, or a "check-off program", for research and promotional activities.