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Long-awaited farm bill clears the Senate; heads to president

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The U.S. Senate passed the long-awaited farm bill on Tuesday, ending two years of gridlock on the bill in Washington.

Senate passage was expected to be the final hurdle for the nearly $1 trillion spending measure. The bill passed 68 to 32 and it now heads to President Obama's desk. The New York Times reports Obama is expected to sign the bill.

The legislation is expected to reduce the deficit, strengthen crop insurance programs, eliminate direct payments, maintain the sugar program and keep nutrition programs strong for families.

In a statement, Sen. Amy Klobuchar said, "They say good things come to those who wait, and today's strong, bipartisan vote is a long-awaited victory for farmers, ranchers and rural communities in Minnesota and all across the country."

Klobuchar was on the conference committee that negotiated the final agreement. She said the bill will give the certainty farmers need to "grow and thrive."

The Minnesota Farm Bureau was pleased with the passage of the bill. Farm Bureau president, Kevin Papp said, "We appreciate the Senate's decision to protect and strengthen the federal crop insurance program and not reduce its funding, as well as the approval of a commodity program that provides farmers varied safety net options."

Papp added the bill encourages farmers to follow market signals and is "fiscally responsible."

CNN outlined five lesser-known things about the farm bill.

  1. You will know more about your meat: The farm bill marks a major decision in the fight over product labeling. The bill backs a new requirement that pork, chicken or beef sold in the United States must include details on where an animal was born, slaughtered and processed.
  2. Farmers will see less risk; federal government takes on more: The bill ends guaranteed payments that farmers receive from the federal government regardless of their harvest quality or crop prices. To try and mitigate the hit from ending those payments the government will make crop insurance cheaper and will pay out some of the benefits at lower levels than it has previously. It will make farming less risky for some, but transfers the risk to the federal government.
  3. Lawmakers aren't disclosing something: Members of Congress who own farmland can receive the crop insurance subsidies. They do not need to disclose if they or anyone in their immediate family receive government help.
  4. We have land problems: The farm bill forces farmers who want subsidies to follow a series of conservation practices, it also aims to cut subsidies in half for farmers who farm on some virgin sod. Environmentalists applaud the provisions, but also note the bill cuts direct spending on conservation programs overall.
  5. What goes in your body – corn and sushi: The farm bill also decides which crops the U.S. government wants to encourage and protect. This includes mostly row crops such as corn, wheat, and soy. But it also includes sushi rice. If sushi rice prices fall too low, the government will now make up the difference.

Through most of the process, the biggest stumbling block was the proposed cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. USA Today reports that roughly $8 billion will be cut from the food stamp program. According to the report, that results in about a $90 a month reduction for about 850,000 people.

The cuts to food stamps are not expected to affect Minnesota.

The bill cleared the house last week on a vote of 251-166.

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