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WASHINGTON -- While negotiations for a new U.S. farm program typically focus on the pros and cons of direct payments to farmers, approximately 80 percent of the current 2014 Farm Bill’s budget is earmarked for nutrition and food assistance programs, according to John Newton, director of market intelligence for the American Farm Bureau Federation.

In comments to farmers attending the Michigan Farm Bureau’s (MFB) annual Washington Legislative Seminar, Newton said it’s important they encourage Congress to keep food assistance programs like the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in the 2018 Farm Bill.

“They’ve been together since the early 1970s and it really helps to form a balanced bill that can make it through the House of Representatives and ultimately the Senate,” Newton explained.

“The Farm Bill is a $1 trillion package over 10 years, with about 80 percent of the budget going to food assistance and nutrition programs.”

Newton said conversations on the 2018 Farm Bill are under way, with several Senate and House hearings already completed.

He expects the discussions and a series of “field hearings,” including one in Michigan, will continue throughout this summer. “I’m hoping we’ll begin to see pen to paper sometime in late 2017, with a bill in 2018.”

Newton warned looming federal budget challenges will threaten key safety-net provisions such as federal crop insurance subsidies and the Margin Protection Program for dairy farmers. “Agriculture took a budget cut the last time we did a Farm Bill – we cut $23 billion.”

“Given the state of the farm economy today with net farm income down nearly 50 percent in just a few years, I think it’s fair to ask that agriculture not have to take any more cuts in the 2018 Farm Bill,” he said. “Crop Insurance is one of the most important pieces of the farm bill and it needs to remain intact.”

Newton said agricultural lenders also look to the stability of crop insurance, particularly in the current farm economy, as an important component of a farmer’s risk management strategy.

Support from Michigan’s congressional delegation for the 2018 Farm Bill is generally very positive, Newton said.

“They understand the importance of a strong crop insurance safety-net, a strong dairy safety-net and the importance of specialty crops provisions for Michigan farmers, and they certainly understand the importance of nutrition programs.”

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