Updated 9:41 a.m. Jan. 29.
The cows are finally coming home.
After more than two years of talks, negotiators released a long-awaited farm bill Monday evening. The legislation is the last big item on the 2013 congressional to-do list, and it's expected to sail through the House and Senate in the coming days — mostly because lawmakers want to get it over with already.
Just as we scoured the more than 1,000-page $1.1 trillion spending agreement passed this month for juicy tidbits, we've perused the 959-page farm bill to call out some neat, new and interesting anecdotes that might not normally see the light of day.
If you're a more serious student of farming and food stamp legislation, read the bill for yourself or read our news story on the bill here. But if you're in the market for information that might impress friends, family, strangers, co-workers and cocktail-hour buddies, then read on below. (We'll be adding to and adjusting this summary as we learn more.)
How much will the farm bill cost? And how much in federal spending will be cut?
The cost of the Agricultural Act of 2014 is $956.4 billion, according to estimates by the Congressional Budget Office.
The measure is expected to reduce federal spending by $16.6 billion over the next decade, according to the CBO. Supporters of the bill argue that the bill saves closer to $23 billion, based on budgeting that existed when the last farm bill passed in 2008 and before automatic budget cuts known as sequestration took effect.
Regardless, the cuts are a major selling point in this age of austerity. The measure slashes billions of dollars from farm programs, including an end to direct payments to farmers — money that often went to farmers who don't actually farm. President Obama and fiscal conservatives including Sen. Tom Coburn (R-Okla.) have been after this program for years — and now it's a goner. The agreement also includes about $6 billion in savings by merging 23 separate conservation programs into 13. It's a move supported by conservation groups nationwide, according to House and Senate aides. Finally, the bill cuts about $8 billion in the federal food stamp program.
Yeah, about those cuts to the food stamp program: How'd they do it?
First off, food stamps are now formally known as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP. Negotiators found a way to cut about $8 billion in funding for the program over the next decade.
Most of the savings will come by tweaking federal "heat and eat" benefits that House and Senate aides say have been exploited in recent years by several states and the District of Columbia to boost how much money some people receive from SNAP.
The changes will require the states and D.C. to pay more in "heat and eat" money, a move that will reduce, but not eliminate, SNAP payments by about $90 monthly for about 850,000 households.
The Farm Bill also cuts SNAP funding by prohibiting the Agriculture Department from spending money on television, radio and billboard ads to promote the program and on programs designed to recruit new beneficiaries. And in response to years of documented evidence of misuse and abuse of the program, USDA will need to ensure that illegal immigrants, lottery winners, college students and the dead cannot receive food stamps and that people cannot collect benefits in multiple states.
Country of Origin Labeling (COOL for short)
Where does your food come from? It's a long-running battle between the USDA, the World Trade Organization, livestock producers and consumer advocacy groups.
Page 881 of the farm bill outlines "Mandatory Country of Origin Labeling of Beef, Pork, Lamb, Chicken, Goat Meat, Wild and Farm-raised Fish and Shellfish, Perishable Agricultural Commodities, Peanuts, Pecans, Ginseng and Macadamia Nuts."
It's a mouthful (no pun intended), and the new bill didn't do anything to reverse new "country of origin labeling" rules established by the Obama administration last year. The rules require labels explaining where a meat product was born, raised and slaughtered. The labels are favored by the "farm-to-fork" community and other consumer groups, but the livestock industry — especially meat-packing companies like Tysons Foods — have challenged the new rules in federal court. They argue that the new rules are too burdensome and could upset trade relations with Canada, Mexico and other countries.
Want to study the effects of industrial hemp? Now you can do it, so long as your state permits it.
For the first time, the farm bill will authorize colleges and universities to grow industrial hemp for research purposes in states that permit growth and cultivation of the plant. Currently nine states — Colorado, California, Kentucky, Maine, Montana, North Dakota, Oregon, Vermont, and West Virginia — have such laws.
Aides noted that the new hemp-themed provisions are among hundreds of policy and spending details buried in the legislation, but the decision is likely to contribute to a growing national debate about the legalization of marijuana both for medicinal and recreational purposes.
And what exactly is "industrial hemp?"
Glad you asked. According to the bill, "the term 'industrial hemp' means the plant Cannabis sativa L. and any part of such plant, whether growing or not, with a delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol concentration of not more than 0.3 percent on a dry weight basis."
Makes sense, right?
What is "farm-raised fish?"
A big deal for the Whole Foods crowd. According to the bill, "The term 'farm-raised fish' means any aquatic species that is propagated and reared in a controlled environment."
And what is "livestock?"
The bill says that "The term 'livestock' includes (A) cattle (including dairy cattle); (B) bison; (C) poultry; (D) sheep; (E) swine; (F) horses and; (G) other livestock, as determined by the Secretary" of agriculture.
Halal and Kosher foods
"As soon as practicable," the USDA is instructed to "increase the purchase" of halal and kosher foods to be added to the department's emergency food assistance program that helps replenish the supply of food at soup kitchens, food banks and shelters.
In the battle of Sheep vs. Trey Radel, the sheep win
Monday really was a bad day for now-former Rep. Trey Radel (R-Fla.). Not only did he resign from Congress, but a federal institution he fought to kill — the National Sheep Industry Improvement Center — lives on. As The Post's David A. Fahrenthold pointed out a few weeks back, the center gives grants to sheep researchers, sheep-rancher associations and young shearers in training. This past summer, Radel stood up before the House to argue that, at a cost of $1 million or more, it was too expensive to keep.
But the program lives on.
The farm bill includes $1.5 million in funding this fiscal year to strengthen and enhance "the production and marketing of sheep and sheep products in the United States."
Also, there's no red meat in the bill
No, really. The bill repeals the "Red Meat Safety Research Center," which was first established by Congress in 1990.
What did we miss? What would you add? Share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Updated and corrected: An earlier version of this bill reported that the bill was expected to save $23 billion over the next decade. While sponsors of the bill argue that the measure will save that amount by using calculations that don't factor in recent automatic budget cuts known as the sequester, a CBO estimate released Tuesday estimates that the bill will save closer to $16 billion in the next decade.