U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin today voted to reform agriculture programs, provide certainty for Wisconsin farmers and support a "Grown in Wisconsin" economy. The Agricultural Act of 2014, the bipartisan House-Senate Farm Bill Agreement, passed the Senate 68-32. The bill passed the House of Representatives January 29 with bipartisan support, 251-166.
"Our strong agricultural tradition is a driver of economic growth and the Farm Bill is an opportunity to boost our agriculture economy, which puts over 350,000 people in Wisconsin to work," said Baldwin. "This compromise isn't perfect but it is bipartisan legislation that makes important investments in our rural communities and will help ensure that our agriculture sector continues to fuel our state's economy."
The Agriculture Act of 2014 provides significant opportunities for agriculture to drive economic growth and job creation. It also makes important investments in rural America. Specifically, the bill:
Boosts export opportunities to help farmers find new global markets for their goods.
Invests in research to promote productivity and new agricultural innovations.
Creates initiatives to help veterans start agriculture businesses.
Strengthens rural development initiatives to help rural communities upgrade infrastructure and create a better environment for small businesses.
"This bipartisan legislation will provide long-term certainty our famers need. Creating jobs by investing in our rural communities, reforming our farm programs so that they work for our family farmers, and putting an end to waste in the system is just commonsense," said Baldwin.
The bipartisan legislation makes the most significant reforms to farm programs in decades. It ends unnecessary subsidies like direct payments, eliminates duplication, and streamlines programs to save more than $23 billion.
Senator Baldwin advocated specifically for Wisconsin's agriculture economy by working to ensure the following was included in the bipartisan agreement:
Supporting Wisconsin Dairy Farmers: The bill contains dairy programs to help farmers manage risk and includes a new dairy margin insurance program that will help Wisconsin farmers when milk prices drop. Senator Baldwin fought to ensure the program helps Wisconsin's family farmers. Baldwin also worked hard to provide a temporary extension of the current program (MILC) so that dairy farmers had a safety net in place as they transition to the new program. In addition, she fought to ensure our system for setting milk prices would be fair to Wisconsin -- and the legislation included her recommendation.
Grown in Wisconsin Specialty Crops: The legislation includes Specialty Crop Block Grants to support research for crops like cranberries, potatoes, ginseng, and cherries. Wisconsin will see funding for this critical research jump from $870,000 in 2013 to $1.5 million in 2014.
Strengthening opportunities for beginning farmers and ranchers with training and access to capital: The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act provides tools for farmers including technical assistance and training programs, as well as helping them purchase farm land with a special down payment program and lower loan rates.
Helping family farmers sell locally, increasing support for farmers' markets, and connecting farmers to schools and other community-based organizations: The Local Food Farms and Jobs Act supports access to farmers markets, improves crop insurance for organics, and supports extension programs for small farmers. The bill consolidates previous programs to streamline them and make them easier to use. It also contains increased funding of $205 million for the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) to help food pantries serving families with the greatest need.
Investing in Rural Economies: The Rural Gigabit Pilot program will help to grow local economies and bring next generation networks to rural Wisconsin. The program was included in the bill and will give rural communities a chance to transform their local economy with the type of high speed internet that has previously only been made available in cities.
Fueling Renewable Energy Projects: The Rural Energy Investment Act provides funds for renewable projects including anaerobic digesters and investments in biofuel crops. The bill expands investments in home-grown energy, providing $880 million - an increase from the $600 million included in the last Farm Bill.
Growing Bio-based Manufacturing or expanding production: For the first time, the bill will provide funding for hands-on educational experiences to encourage young people in urban areas to get into the agriculture industry.