WASHINGTON — The House Agriculture Committee completed a marathon session early today, approving a five-year farm bill that offers greater protections to Arkansas rice growers than a Senate-approved version.
After opening debate on the bill 17 hours earlier, the committee voted 35-11 to approve the legislation that sets policies for federal agriculture and nutrition programs. Rep. Rick Crawford, R-Jonesboro, the only Arkansan on the panel, voted in favor of the bill.
“The House Agriculture Committee has worked in a bipartisan fashion to craft a fiscally responsible Farm Bill that will work for farm families across the country,” Crawford said in a press statement. “Now that the bill has been voted out of committee, I am hopeful the full House will soon be able to consider this legislation that saves taxpayers money and reduces the nation’s deficit.”
The House bill keeps a price support program that pays farmers when prices fall below certain levels. The target price system is favored by Southern rice and peanut farmers, who objected to the Senate bill that relied on crop insurance and a new shallow-loss program.
The USA Rice Federation is supporting the House version, saying it offers “a meaningful choice of risk management tools for all producers, crops and regions.”
The Agricultural Council of Arkansas issued a statement after the vote saying they support the House bill because it “provides certainty for farmers, which will allow them to make long-term investments necessary for maintaining productivity and economic viability.”
The Council urged Congress, as they go forward, to retain the safety-net programs included in the bill noting that changes could put the livelihood of Arkansas’s agriculture industry at risk.
The most hotly debated issue for the panel was food stamps. The bill would reduce the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program by about $1.6 billion a year by tightening rules that states use to determine who can participate.
Crawford said closing the loopholes would not impact Arkansas because the state does not use them. Some Democrats on the panel, however, argued against the plan which quadruples the cuts included in the bill the Senate adopted last month. They said it would throw millions of poor Americans — mostly children and elderly — off food stamps.
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