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Editorial: Compromise on farm bill

The U.S. Senate crafted an imperfect but bipartisan five-year farm bill in June and then sent it to the House. Representatives had plenty of opportunity to tweak the bill’s shortcomings and bring about meaningful and needed reforms, but they didn’t.

After weeks of political badminton, House Republicans last week pushed through a farm bill on a severe diet: They stripped out food, nutrition and related programs — 80 percent of the enormous omnibus bill — and passed a farm policy bill.

Something was better than nothing, which is why Rep. John Kline voted for the lesser bill, he told local farmers on Friday. That’s because the two bills now can head to Senate/House conference committee, where we hope common sense reigns. No House bill would have meant no conference, no second chance.

Our community needs a good farm bill. That’s why Kline visited last week. That’s why Sen. Amy Klobuchar stopped earlier this summer. We need meaningful action this year so the economy can continue to grow along with local crops.

Producers of cash crops, dairy, pork and other commodities have an easier time planning when they know what, where, when and how federal legislation will affect them — immediately and over time. Minnesota's 80,000 farms contribute more than $18 billion to the economy every year and these producers need disaster relief programs, dairy reforms and more. How they then plan and spend affects the entire community.

Farmers received a one-year extension to the 2008 farm bill last autumn. This year they again wait and wonder if there will be another one-year extension, a new bill or nothing — however unlikely because that would mean a sudden return to the 1949 farm bill.

Waiting with farmers are the banks that lend them money, the local merchants where they buy their goods, plus nearly every component of our community touched by the farm bill.

Remember, the farm bill is a broad omnibus bill worth billions and billions of dollars. While 20 percent goes to programs directly related to farming, the bulk of 68 percent goes to the nutrition component — food stamps, food banks, school lunches, senior dining, child care meals, etc. Another dozen or so programs share the remaining 12 percent of farm bill monies.

Our government, like the farm bill, needs compromise to thrive and survive. In this instance, Democrats need to support reasonable reforms in the food stamp program and Republicans need to squelch the rabid tea party types and accept reasonable reforms. Conference committee is a place to start.