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Congress finally harvested a bipartisan farm bill that will backstop farmers in these risky economic times and provide food and nutrition for America's most needy.

The Senate passed the measure on a strong 87-13 bipartisan vote and the House passed it 369-47 on Dec. 12.

The farm bill offered practical help for farmers without a major increase in spending but provided more relief to dairy farmers, whose numbers declined in Minnesota this year by 10 percent.

Dropped were extreme parts of the original House bill that would have increased work requirements on those receiving supplemental nutrition assistance, also known as food stamps.

The bill is a safety net for farmers and a safety net for families. It offered reasonable compromises. Though work requirements for those on food stamps were not tightened, there was money for job training and program integrity that will boost people toward work and make sure there is no cheating the system.

About $400 billion of the five-year funding will support farm subsidies, conservation programs and bioenergy initiatives. The Conservation Reserve Program will expand by about three million acres to 27 million acres, an 11 percent increase, but funding for paying farmers for those acres will be capped.

The bill also boosts an environmental quality program by $275 million that pays farmers to employ practices aimed at keeping land and water clean.

The program significantly expands help dairy farmers will get by making it much cheaper to buy insurance against low prices. Most other crop subsidies will remain the same as in the past.

Most importantly, the completion of the farm bill gives farmers some economic certainty when they visit their bankers this spring. Once lenders know how farmers will be supported, they can make appropriate lending decisions. Total spending on the bill is $867 billion over five years.

The farm bill is one good example of how members of both parties can come together on good policy to improve the lives of Americans.

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The Free Press of Mankato (Minn.), Dec. 13.

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