WASHINGTON – The Senate passed a bipartisan five-year bill that serves as a safety net for millions of farmers and ranchers across the country in a 86-11 vote this week.
The $867 billion bill funds farm programs, food stamps, trade issues, crop insurance, payments to farmers when commodity prices or revenues drop below set levels and more.
Both Colorado Sens. Cory Gardner and Michael Bennet voted in favor of the bill.
“This farm bill that we have passed today will make sure that we have a strong crop insurance program,” Gardner said in a statement. “But more importantly, this says to our farmers, ranchers across the country that they’re a vital part of our economy.”
In a news conference Thursday morning, Gardner spoke about his amendment regarding the Environmental Quality Incentives Program to make sure agricultural drought concerns are more effectively addressed.
Bennet, who is on the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, spoke about the importance of the bill passing in the Senate, especially with the legalization of hemp as an agricultural commodity.
“This is a major win for Colorado,” Bennet said in a news conference. “The Senate bill legalizes hemp for the first time in 80 years.”
The legalization of hemp as a crop would allow Colorado farmers and ranchers to buy seeds, grow products and access water and labor.
The bill includes an amendment that combats diseases harming hop plants, powdery mildew and downy mildew, that can damage as much as 15 percent of a hop field. The amendment was sponsored by both Gardner and Bennet.
Additionally, the Senate version of the bill focuses on increasing broadband in rural areas. The bill would allow for loans, loan guarantees and grants to improve broadband service in high-need rural areas.
Expansions in conservation also appear on the bill, with additions such as an amendment created by Bennet, called Conservation for Small-Scale Farmers, that would allow the U.S. Department of Agriculture to create a pilot program for the delivery of conservation funding to small-scale producers.
The House version of the farm bill barely passed last week on a 213-211 vote, which included work requirements for food stamps, possibly resulting in about 400,000 households losing access to them.
The bill moves forward to a conference between the two chambers to reach common ground before President Donald Trump signs the bill into law. In a news conference, Bennet said he asked to be part of the conference committee and was a member of the committee during the 2014 farm bill.
“I hope the House will be able to see the benefits of it and take up this bill,” Bennet said. “The House has not passed a bipartisan bill – they passed a partisan bill – and hopefully this will give them the basis to break a logjam on their side of the Capitol.”
Congress has until Sept. 30 to get the bill to Trump before the current law expires.
Maria Carrasco is an intern for The Durango Herald and a student at American University in Washington, D.C.