Idaho Senators Help Pass Farm Bill Despite Objections From Ranchers

Feb 4, 2014

Idaho’s senators Tuesday sided with a majority of their colleges to pass the revamped farm bill. It now goes to President Obama for a signature. Both Idaho senators had said they were undecided in the days leading up to the vote.

Republican Sen. Mike Crapo said his hesitation in supporting the measure was because he wanted more money cut from the nearly $1 trillion bill, including spending for food assistance to the poor. Sen. Jim Risch, also a Republican, didn’t detail why he was undecided until Tuesday's vote. Still, both were being pulled in different directions by groups with a lot of clout in Idaho.

Sugar beet growing near Caldwell
Credit Adam Cotterell / Boise State Public Radio

The huge farm bill governs a wide range of federal programs - directly and indirectly related to agriculture. The stalled legislation was a compromise, so nobody likes the entire bill, but by-and-large people who grow crops wanted it to pass.

Galen Lee is president of the Nyssa-Nampa Sugar Beet Growers Association and grows beets, asparagus, peppermint, corn and hay near New Plymouth, Idaho.

“There’s always going to be things that certain factions of agriculture aren’t going to like that are in the farm bill, but on the whole most are pretty agreeable that what we have is in a good place," Lee says. "And then that gives you something you can lobby for and try and change and try and tweak for the next farm bill coming down the road. ”

Lee says for sugar beet growers specifically, the bill sets good interest rates on federal loans which helps them stay competitive in the face of cheaper foreign sugar.

The Idaho Cattle Association also likes many of the provisions of the farm bill but it too made concessions. Ranchers and meat processors in Idaho, and around the country, wanted the measure to reverse course on requirements that meat be labeled by country of origin. Britany Hurst with the Idaho Cattle Association says these requirements are burden to producers.

“The product has to be labeled where the animal was born, raised and packaged,” Hurst says. “The problem with that for cattle producers is just the economic impact, in tracking costs and just the physical printing and labeling of the product.”  

Hurst says cattle producers worked hard for two years to include language in the farm bill that would remove country of origin labeling (COOL) requirements. They’ll try to do it with separate legislation, but Hurst isn’t optimistic about the chance for success.

A statement from Sen. Crapo lists a number of problems with the farm bill. Those include not cutting enough spending, and the country of origin labeling requirement. But Crapo goes on to list the things he thinks are good about the bill and the reasons he voted yes.

“The 2014 Farm Bill maintains the sugar program that is a vital contributor to Idaho sugarbeet growers’ ability to compete; ensures that Idaho will remain a top dairy state by providing margin insurance protection, and creates a pilot program and research opportunities that will promote the use of pulse crops, which is already a $20 million industry for our state, according to USDA.  After years of litigation and hardships for rural timber communities, this bill states that the Clean Water Act was never intended to regulate stormwater runoff on Idaho’s forest roads.  Finally, Idaho’s local communities depend on PILT funding to help provide for schools, road maintenance and law enforcement.  With the inclusion of a reauthorization of one-year of full PILT funding, Idaho’s counties will know they will be able to provide these essential services.” – Mike Crapo

Risch has not yet articulated why he voted in favor of the farm bill. Both of Idaho’s representatives voted for it last week. 

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