Bipartisan bill includes Bennet-led provisions on forest health, conservation, PILT
In a bipartisan 68-32 vote this afternoon, the Senate passed a full, five-year reauthorization of the Farm Bill. The bill, which provides Colorado’s farmers and ranchers with much-needed certainty and predictability, cuts red tape by consolidating and streamlining dozens of programs and ultimately reduces the deficit by $23 billion. The bill also includes a number of important measures to improve forest health and reduce the risk of wildfires.
Colorado U.S. Senator Michael Bennet was a key part of the drafting and negotiation process as a member of the Senate’s Agriculture Committee and as a member of the Farm Bill Conference Committee, which has worked since October to iron out the differences between the House and Senate versions of the bill. Nearly two dozen listening sessions across Colorado helped inform his work in helping write the bill as a member of the Senate’s Agriculture Committee.
“Although long overdue, today’s vote means that our state’s producers, from the Eastern Plains to the West Slope to the San Luis Valley, are one step closer to the certainty and predictability that comes with a full, five-year roadmap for food and farm policy,” Bennet said. “Among other things, this bill improves the health of our forests, reduces the risk of wildfires, provides a critical safety net for our state’s producers in the event of extreme weather, and provides essential resources for our rural communities. We traveled across Colorado talking with farmers and ranchers to make sure their voices were heard in this process, and it's about time we got this done for their sake.”
In a final push to get the Farm Bill passed, Bennet described how the bill will help Colorado producers, sportsmen, and rural communities and urged his colleagues to support the conference report.
Agriculture adds $40 billion annually to Colorado’s economy and supports ~175,000 jobs. Here’s what the Farm Bill means for Colorado:
- $23 billion in deficit reduction, making the Farm Bill one of the few deficit-reducing bills to pass this Congress
- The permanent reauthorization of stewardship contracting, a public private partnership where the Forest Service partners with private business to restore forest land, thereby decreasing fuel loads, reducing the risk of fire, and spurring job creation.
- This provision is based off a bill Bennet coauthored
- Expedited treatment of forest land that has been infested by insect and/or disease, through a Bennet-authored provision called the National Forest Insect and Disease Act
- 800,000 acres in Colorado have been decimated by the beetle epidemic.
- A nationwide expansion of so-called “Good Neighbor” authority, which allows state foresters to pursue fire mitigation projects, even when those projects are on federal land
- Currently this authority only exists in Utah and Colorado. In all other states, federal and state authorities manage their land separately.
- Ending direct payments, which Colorado producers have said is their lowest priority for risk management
- A strengthened crop insurance program, an important tool Colorado’s farmers use to deal with weather disasters or market volatility
- New Bennet-backed tools for supporting organic agriculture, including extending crop insurance coverage to organics and allowing producers to create an organic check off program
- An improved conservation easement program Bennet helped write with input from Coloradans, allowing landowners to preserve their land for future generations while still using it for crop production and grazing
- Livestock disaster assistance to help Colorado ranchers deal with extreme weather
- Five modern air tankersto help fight fires
- Bennet and fellow Colorado U.S. Senator Mark Udall have lead the charge in fighting for these tankers
- Resources for agricultural research, including new support for the National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN) to protect Colorado’s livestock sector against potential disease outbreaks
- CSU Fort Collins houses one of the core labs in the NAHLN and Bennet was a key architect of this provision
- Resources to support rural development
- In FY13, the USDA invested >$400 million in Colorado’s rural communities through development loans and grants
- One-year extension of the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) program, which Bennet successfully fought forafter PILT funding was removed from January’s appropriations bill
- In FY13, nearly 90 percent of Colorado’s counties received PILT payments, totaling $32 million
The House passed the Farm Bill last Wednesday in a 251-166 vote. It now heads to the President’s desk to be signed into law.