WASHINGTON, DC - Following committee passage of the Farm Bill, U.S. Senator Bob Casey (D-PA), a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, released the following statement:
“The new Farm Bill passed by the Senate Agriculture Committee includes vital improvements for Pennsylvania over the previous Farm Bill. Agriculture is the number one industry in Pennsylvania and the outcome of this legislation, that sets federal farm policy for the next five years, is vital for the Commonwealth’s farmers and agriculture industry.
“The Farm Bill includes many of my top priorities including fair treatment for Pennsylvania’s specialty crops, dairy farmers and conservation programs as well as increased support for nutritional programs.
“My amendments to help struggling dairy farms, apple growers and other specialty crop producers were adopted by the Committee. Conservation programs have been improved. These programs are vital to farmers and to preserve the open space and environmental integrity of Pennsylvania. Specifically, I was pleased to be able to secure $165 million for conservation in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed that covers 41 Pennsylvania counties.
“I am pleased that I have had the opportunity to ensure that Pennsylvania’s interests were well represented in the Farm Bill. And I look forward to seeing the effort through on the Senate floor.”
Below are summaries of key areas that Senator Casey worked to include in the Farm Bill passed by the Senate Agriculture Committee.
Specialty Crops Title: For the first time, specialty crops (largely fruits and vegetables) have received its own Subtitle in the Farm Bill. Pennsylvania’s main production crops are specialty crops. By focusing more attention on specialty crops, Pennsylvania will benefit. This non-subsidy assistance includes trade assistance, research and federal commodity purchases.
Senator Casey also passed an amendment to provide more equity for specialty crop growers (specifically apple growers) to participate in conservation programs.
Conservation, Open Space and Chesapeake Bay Conservation: Senator Casey secured $165 million in mandatory funding through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program for conservation projects in the Chesapeake Bay Watershed. This watershed encompasses 41 Pennsylvania counties. This funding will help farmers meet state and federal laws to restore the Bay.
To help preserve open-space, Senator Casey helped secure an increase in funding for the Community Forest Program. This program provides grants to local and county governments to purchase privately-owned forest land that would otherwise be developed. This is an important tool to help communities manage or prevent sprawl.
Changes were also made in the Farm Bill to increase funding for conservation programs and to make conservation programs more efficient, effective and relevant to farmers.
Dairy Farmers: Senator Casey’s Mandatory Price Reporting and Marketing Transparency Amendment would help solve the problem of outdated dairy pricing. Currently, the system is extremely complex and there is not enough transparency for dairy farmers. The amendment, similar to what is used in livestock markets, would give farmers real-time reporting and data publication on a daily basis. Six months after passing the bill, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) will collect and publish prices on all dairy products from all dairy processors. Small processors, those processors producing one million pounds of milk or less a year, are exempt.
Senator Casey also successfully added an amendment that requires the USDA to determine the current cost of feed and fuel for dairy farmers. The Farm-Level Feed and Fuel Index for Make Allowances Amendment would make sure that dairy farmers' true cost of production is considered before USDA allows dairy processors to lower prices paid to farmers in order to cover their own input costs.
And the Committee passed Senator Casey amendment to improve dairy advance pricing for Class II skim milk.
Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Snack Program: Providing healthy food to schools with a high percentage of students in the free and reduced price lunch program will help students be ready to learn in the classroom. This program also benefits the fruit and vegetable producers in Pennsylvania. The Farm Bill includes a funding increase to $1.1 billion over five years to extend the program to every state in the country. Pennsylvania will receive $7 million a year in funding for the program.
Colony Collapse Disorder: The Farm Bill includes as a high priority research item, an authorization for a $20 million a year study into the growing problem of Colony Collapse Disorder.
Food Stamps: Increases monthly benefits and increases asset limits so people do not have to go further into poverty in order to be eligible for the food stamp program.
Rural Hospitals: Provisions on the Farm Bill will also help to modernize and improve hospitals in rural areas through telemedicine and equipment purchases.