Many small ranchers and meat producers applaud Congress for keeping the country of origin labeling (COOL) provisions in the Farm Bill.

[imgcontainer] [img:MK-CH962_MEAT_G_20131118194343.jpg] [source]Photo by the Associated Press[/source] Many small ranchers and meat producers applaud Congress for keeping the country-of-origin labeling (COOL) provisions in the Farm Bill. [/imgcontainer]

Two years after the last farm bill expired, Congress is one giant step closer to enacting new legislation.

Senate and House negotiators released a compromise bill yesterday. The House could vote on it Wednesday, the Senate next week.

Here are some preliminary highlights of the compromise bill:

Restores payments in lieu of taxes. The compromise bill restores payments the federal government makes to counties that contain public lands. The payments are meant to compensate local governments for services they provide on federal lands, which are not subject to local property taxes. The payments were cut in the recent federal budget deal.

The restoration of the payments, which divide $425 million among some 1,850 counties in 49 states, drew praise from leaders in the National Association of Counties (NACo).

“We are most pleased that the federal government will once again renew its obligation to America’s counties which are unable to collect property taxes from the nation’s 606 million-acre estate, yet are responsible to provide services on these lands,” said Mike Murray, a county commissioner from Lewis and Clark County, Montana and chair of NACo’s Public Lands Steering Committee. (See NACo’s report on the bill.)

Helps South Dakota ranchers. The bill contains $4 billion in livestock disaster funds, which can be made retroactively available to ranchers who suffered losses since this program’s funding expired two years ago. That could include ranchers in South Dakota who suffered catastrophic herd losses during a freak October blizzard.

Preserves meat labeling rules. Meatpackers are miffed, but some farmers and consumer groups are celebrating that they beat back a threat to meat country-of-origin labeling (C00L). COOL requires retailers to label meat with information about the source of the product.

“This is a major victory for independent U.S. farmers and ranchers who want open and fair competition in the United States,” said Bill Bullard, the CEO of R-CALF (Ranchers-Cattlemen Action Legal Fund, United Stockgrowers of America). “We owe a tremendous thank you to the congressional members who were steadfast in their support of COOL and the enforcement of our livestock competition laws.”

But the American Meat Institute, National Catttleman’s Beef Association, National Chicken Council, National Pork Producers Council, National Turkey Federation and North American Meat Association say they will oppose the full bill because it doesn’t lift COOL requirements.

The bill also did not include another meat-industry priority, restricting activities of the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA). 

Cuts food stamps. The bill cuts 1%, or $8 billion over five years, out of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, known commonly as food stamps. If there are stumbling blocks in passage, it’s likely to be in this part of the bill. Some Senate Democrats say those cuts are too big. But on the House side, there’s concern that some Republicans may oppose the compromise because they want greater cuts in the nutrition program.

Changes the price support system. The compromise bill gives U.S. farmers the choice to between participating in “traditional price supports or insurance-like protection against a drop in crop revenue,” reports Chuck Abbot in DTN. The new system ends direct-payment subsidies to farmers, regardless of need.

Funds Rural Development. The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Development program will receive $228 million in funding. That includes:

  • $150 million for Water and Waste Water Program.
  • $63 million for the Value-Added Producer Grant Program.
  • $15 million for the Rural Microenterprise Assistance Program (RMAP).
  • $100 million for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program.

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