Bennet Secures Key Provisions in Farm Bill, Helps Advance Bill to Senate Floor

Bennet-Backed Measures Include New Forest Health Authorities, Improved Conservation Programs, Organic Farming, and Farm Animal Research

Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet today joined his colleagues in the Senate Agriculture Committee in reporting the 2013 Farm Bill out of the Committee and onto the Senate floor for a vote. The bill includes several of Bennet’s provisions and amendments aimed at helping Colorado farmers and ranchers and communities. The bill passed with broad, bipartisan support and now moves to the full Senate, where consideration could come as early as this week.

“Our nation’s producers, including those in Colorado, need the certainty that comes with a long-term Farm Bill,” Bennet said. “Today, we took the first step in what I hope is a quick process by moving the Farm Bill onto the Senate floor for a full vote. In addition to saving billions in taxpayer dollars, this bill includes the tools, resources, and reforms that our state’s farmers, ranchers, small business entrepreneurs, land managers, and community food organizations need to help them succeed.”

The Farm Bill, which is supposed to be reauthorized every five years, renews the programs that govern our national agriculture, nutrition, conservation and forestry policy. The 2008 Farm Bill expired on September 30, 2012 and has been operating on a short-term extension since then.

The 2013 Farm Bill draft, unveiled last week with several key Bennet priorities, reforms farm policy, consolidates and streamlines programs and would reduce the deficit by $23 billion. In the draft bill, Bennet worked to develop a forestry title that will help maintain healthy forests in Colorado. This section includes two bills Bennet previously introduced: the National Forest Insect and Disease Treatment Act and the Permanent Stewardship Contracting Authority Act. The bill also incorporates Bennet’s bill to provide a more stable flow of resources for the National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN), which monitors animal-borne illnesses that pose significant threats to animal and public health.

In today’s committee markup of the bill, Bennet successfully added three amendments. An amendment to establish the Farm Animal Integrated Research Initiative (FAIRI) was accepted into the bill in a manager’s package of amendments. The initiative would award competitive grants for critical animal science research priorities like food security, the intersection of human and animal health, and environmental stewardship to national laboratories, institutions of higher education, research organizations, and private corporations.

Bennet amended the conservation title of the bill to improve the ability of farmers and ranchers to establish conservation easements on their land. The amendment would waive the non-federal cost-match requirements (50 percent) for conservation easements of “special significance,” such as to protect critical wildlife habitat or historically important agricultural land. Currently, land owners can contribute no more than 25 percent of the cost share with the other 25 percent coming from land trusts. This amendment would allow flexibility for land owners to contribute more to the easement. It is supported by the National Wildlife Federation.

“This amendment will help create flexibility in the conservation easements program to help protect lands in more places around the country,” said Lynne Sherrod, Western Policy Manager for the Land Trust Alliance. “Senator Bennet has been a leader in helping improve the conservation programs in the Farm Bill to ensure that producers across the country can preserve the heritage of their land.”

Bennet also secured an amendment that would give farmers and ranchers of organic products the opportunity to work with the Department of Agriculture to establish a research and promotion order, or a “check-off program.” Check-off programs administer research and promotional activities—from soil research to television campaigns—designed to boost sales of and demand for different agricultural products. They are financed through assessments on sales of organic products. With consumer demand continuing to grow for organics in Colorado and nationwide, this amendment would help the industry to continue to innovate and seize new business opportunities.

“Aurora Organic Dairy congratulates Senator Bennet on the inclusion of his amendment in the Senate Agriculture Committee-passed Farm Bill today. The amendment gives organic farmers and ranchers the option to participate in an organic check-off program should they choose to do so. It not only recognizes the distinct market dynamics for organic, but is good for jobs, economic growth, and agriculture in Colorado,” said Scott McGinty, President of Aurora Organic Dairy. “Providing the organic sector with its own tools and choice is a big step forward,” added McGinty.

“United Natural Foods is proud to service 27,000 customers across North America with over 65,000 products and employ over 7,000 associates including over 400 in Colorado. The passage of the Bennet amendment positions the organic industry for continued growth and expansion by giving the organic sector the ability to pool its own resources to fund research and education. We see this as a simple action, with no cost to the taxpayer. Simply put it will allow continued growth, expansion, and hiring throughout the organic industry”, commented Melody Meyer, VP Policy and Industry Relations. “Senator Bennet’s leadership and focus on diversity in agriculture and jobs is greatly appreciated,” Meyer added.

The bill now heads to the Senate floor for consideration by the full Senate.