Leahy Ensures That Vermont Is A Big Winner In New Farm Bill – Major Boosts For State’s Dairy, Organic, Anti-Hunger And Lake Champlain Priorities

WASHINGTON (Wednesday, May 14) -- Vermont’s clout in agriculture policy again is paying big dividends as Congress races to finish work on a new bipartisan five-year Farm Bill.  The House Wednesday passed the newly negotiated Farm Bill by a veto-proof vote of 318 to 106, and the Senate has set its vote on the bill for Thursday.  The Senate is also expected to pass the bill with more than enough votes to override a threatened presidential veto. 

The new Farm Bill advances key Vermont agriculture, anti-hunger and environmental priorities championed by Sen. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), the most senior member of the Senate Agriculture Committee of either party, who was a principal architect and negotiator of the bill. 

The final version of the Farm Bill, filed in Congress only Tuesday, would not only renew but also expand the basic safety net for dairy farmers, the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) program; it would bring to Vermont record levels of funding and wider access to farmland conservation programs that have become crucial engines in the cleanup of Lake Champlain; it would dramatically increase support for food banks and the Food Stamp program; and it would offer more support to help farmers make the transition to the booming organic sector.  

“First and foremost,” Leahy said, “this bill makes a dramatic improvement in the MILC program that will better help Vermont’s dairy producers compete for a fair price.  By adding the feed cost adjuster, the MILC program target price will help keep pace with skyrocketing production costs.  And increasing the payment rate and eligible production will be essential when the price of milk drops.  These improvements will help ensure that dairying remains a vital part of Vermont’s economy and Vermont’s heritage.”  Leahy led the MILC negotiations on the Agriculture Committee, and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) worked outside the committee to build support for the plan. 

Leahy said improvements in the Farm Bill’s conservation programs will help limit phosphorus runoff into Vermont’s streams, rivers, and Lake Champlain.  “These conservation programs have helped farmers become partners in achieving some of Vermont’s most pressing environmental goals.  These investments on the farm are important building blocks for real on-the-ground action for cleaning up the Lake.” 

He said the bill’s anti-hunger efforts will make a difference in thousands of Vermonters’ lives.  “When the economy sputters, families suffer in many ways, including hunger and poor nutrition.  This bill is a chance to make a bad situation better.  More than 53,000 Vermonters rely on federal nutrition programs each year, while thousands more will receive assistance on an emergency basis to help them through difficult times.  The $10.4 billion in additional anti-hunger relief in this bill is vital, and it comes at a crucial time.” 

Father of the national organic standards and labeling program, Leahy noted that organic farming has become the fastest-growing sector of American agriculture and is especially robust in Vermont.  “This bill makes the organic option a realistic option for more farmers in Vermont,” he said.  “That’s good for smaller farms in particular, and it’s a solid investment in growing Vermont’s economy.” 

A summary of the Vermont highlights of the final 2008 Farm Bill, released Wednesday by Leahy’s office, is available here: Vermont Highlights of 2008 Farm Bill

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