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Last updated 1:35AM ET
February 26, 2021
APR News Reports
APR News Reports
Alabama Lawmakers Respond to Early Version of Farm Bill
(APR - Alabama Public Radio ) - After months of squabbling and repeated delays, the House of Representatives overwhelmingly passed the farm bill yesterday (Wed. 5/14). Alabama lawmakers say it's a big win for farmers and consumers back home. Elizabeth Wynne Johnson Reports ...

The price tag on the farm bill is nearly three-hundred billion dollars. It includes subsidies for commodity crops, investment in ag research, and funding for food stamp and school lunch programs. It also has measures to boost conservation and disaster relief. Rehobeth Republican Terry Everett is a senior member on the Agriculture Committee. He says Alabama farmers stand to gain.

Everett- I think peanut, which is very important to Alabama did very well. I think cotton did as well as it could be expected.

Everett sponsored a provision that would have the federal government share the cost with Southeast farmers to build irrigation ponds. He secured sixty million dollars over five years for that program. But at the last minute, other lawmakers added language to divert some money to preserve watersheds somewhere else. Everett isn't pleased.

Everett- Other places will benefit, no doubt about it, but I want Georgia and Alabama to be an equal among equals.

Overall, Everett says the benefit of the bill outweighs its weaknesses. Mobile Republican Jo Bonner agrees.

Bonner- The people who have contacted us in support of it see Is it everything they want? Of course not.' That's what a piece of legislation like this is. It's a piece of compromise.

Saks Republican Michael Rogers is also on the Agriculture Committee. He says he's most encouraged by funding increase for homegrown alternative energy. The farm bill would provide one billion dollars to fund renewable energy research and development. It reduces subsidies for corn-based ethanol and increase investment in cellulosic ethanol. Rogers says that's good news for Southeastern states.

Rogers- A lot of the biomass, the cellulosic energy technology uses the stuff we grow in our part of the country-pine trees, switch grass, etc.

Birmingham Democrat Artur Davis is also raving about the farm bill.

Davis- This is the best farm bill for minority farmers that we've had.

The bill would increase funding for socially disadvantaged farmers, and establish an advocacy committee in the Agriculture Department for minority operations. It would also reopen the Pigford lawsuit, in which thousands of black farmers sued the government for discrimination in federal grants. The federal government agreed to compensate the farmers, but most were excluded for failing to meet a deadline. Davis says reopening the case is a big victory.

Davis-Pigford That's the most important thing for black farmers. They now have a chance to go into court to make the federal government meet the promise it made to them several years ago.

Not everyone is happy with the farm bill. Oregon Democrat Earl Blumenauer, for example, says the new farm bill does little to change the old system where wealthy farmers get big federal dollars.

Blumenauer-"Lots of time and energy was put into it. But ppl accepted that we couldn't reform it fundamentally. Ppl remained captive of the we've been doing it for 50 years.

Blumenauer says the vast majority of Farm Bill benefits still go to large-scale corporate farms and ranches. Farmers with household income of up to two point five million dollars would be eligible for subsidies. The President has threatened to veto the bill arguing it's too expensive. But Artur Davis is undeterred.

Davis- The oil industry is one of the most profitable industries in the country. The government gives them 14 billion dollars worth of tax breaks. No one complains about that, so the notion that farmers are somehow unfairly advantaged, because God forbid some of them might eek out over a million dollars? You know, people have different perspectives based on their region, but I think it's a good farm bill.

The House passed the bill by an overwhelming margin. Now it's waiting for the Senate to vote, and Congress has until Memorial Day to overwrite the President's anticipated veto.

For APR News, Elizabeth Wynne Johnson, Capitol News Connection.
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