MEDIA coverage of the Senate's 68-32 vote to pass the 2014 farm bill has been somewhat muted. Perhaps the media is suffering from "farm bill exhaustion," as one commodity group put it.
Network news coverage last Tuesday evening was almost nonexistent. Late in its broadcast, "NBC Nightly News" devoted about 10 seconds to the story and categorized the bill as "cutting subsidies."
It appears that neither CBS nor ABC covered the bill's passage, instead posting an AP article on their respective websites. CBS ran a longer story about the farm bill on Feb. 3 that was highly negative, with a naive interpretation of the bill and featuring a spokesperson from the group Citizens Against Government Waste.
On the whole, coverage has skewed negative because of insurance programs being mischaracterized as subsidies and due to changes in Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program eligibility.
Beyond the return of functioning government, here are some notable items that may have gotten lost in the lack of coverage:
Research. Investments in agricultural research programs, including the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Agriculture & Food Research Initiative and $200 million of seed money for the new Foundation for Food & Agriculture Research, are a positive for agriculture.
Steve Kopperud, government affairs consultant for the American Feed Industry Assn. (AFIA), said, "AFIA rests satisfied that this Congress will dedicate more than $600 million in mandatory funding to vital basic and applied animal health and disease research, as well crop protection, beginning farmer and various USDA research programs. AFIA was also pleased to see the inclusion of the new public/private matching funds research initiative."
Unfortunately, the new farm bill will continue to make it harder for nonprofit research organizations to successfully compete for federal research dollars. The bill will require non-government organizations and private research institutions to provide 100% matching on all competitive research grants while exempting higher-capacity public universities, the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition explained.
Conservation. The Agricultural Act of 2014 consolidates 23 existing conservation programs into 13 programs while strengthening tools to protect and conserve land, water and wildlife.
By streamlining programs, the farm bill provides added flexibility and ensures that conservation programs are working for producers in the most effective and efficient way — an approach supported by nearly 650 conservation organizations from all 50 states. These reforms increase resources for top-priority areas while reducing the deficit by $6 billion.
Also, the bill reduces the Conservation Reserve Program acreage cap from 32 million to 23 million acres. The committees also more precisely defined environmentally sensitive land for enrollment in the program, a long-needed improvement.
Crop insurance. The bill invests an estimated $6 billion more in the crop insurance title over the next 10 years, extending coverage to new crops and expanding the types of coverage. The first generation of crop insurance protected yields; the second in the 1990s moved to help cover revenue losses. The new generation will be expanded in this bill to crop producers and will offer margin insurance options, explained David Graves, lobbyist for the American Association of Crop Insurers.
In the last farm bill, livestock producers were offered margin products — and oversubscribed every year. Dairy producers often took advantage of the coverage, which fits well with the new dairy margin insurance program that will replace the Milk Income Loss Coverage program.