EAST LANSING, Mich. — President Obama signed the $956 billion farm bill Friday at Michigan State University, where he extolled the benefits of a thriving agricultural sector for the nation’s overall economy.
Standing in front of a tractor and other farm equipment, Obama said the legislation “lifts up our rural communities” and would give more Americans “a shot at opportunity” in the years ahead.
“We’ve had the strongest stretch of farm exports in our history,” Obama told about 500 farmers and local officials in a horse barn at the university. “We are selling more stuff to more people than ever before,” he said, adding, “What we grow here and what we sell is a huge boost to the entire economy, but particularly the rural economy.”
Lawmakers passed the sprawling legislation this week after four years of bitter arguments on farming subsidies and Republican efforts to reduce financing for food stamps. The final bill replaces direct crop payments with an insurance program and trims $8 billion from food stamps during the next decade — far less than the $40 billion cut some Republicans sought.
Obama signed the Agriculture Act of 2014 at Michigan State’s equine performance center. Some locals call Michigan State, know for its dairy program, “Moo U.” Michigan has one of the nation’s largest and most diverse farming economies. Obama said too many farm families were still struggling to make a living, and said the new bill would help.
“I’ve seen how hard it can be to be a farmer,” he said. Big corporate farms are doing well, the president said, but “there are even more small farms, family farms, where folks are just scratching out a living.”
The president arrived with several Democratic lawmakers and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack on Air Force One just after noon Friday and was greeted by the mayor of East Lansing. The White House press secretary, Jay Carney, said about 50 lawmakers — including many Republicans — were invited to the bill signing, but no Republicans accepted.
The Democrats aboard included Senators Patrick J. Leahy of Vermont, Amy Klobuchar of Minnesota, and Debbie Stabenow and Carl Levin of Michigan. Also on board were Representatives Marcia L. Fudge of Ohio and Dan Kildee of Michigan, both Democrats.
“Everyone invited has to speak for himself or herself about their decision to attend or not attend,” Carney told reporters. “Look, this was a bipartisan effort and everyone involved in it deserves credit. The president is happy to share credit for that. The members that are on board today were deeply involved in helping this come about, and the president is very glad to have them join him.”
In his remarks, Obama announced a new “Made in Rural America” initiative that he said would help rural businesses market their goods abroad. White House officials also announced five regional forums on rural exports and an “investing in rural America” conference. Obama directed the White House Rural Council to host sessions in all 50 states to train Agriculture Department staff members on how to promote rural exports.
The president called the farm bill a “jobs bill,” an “innovation bill,” a “research bill” and a “conservation bill.” But he said two main benefits of the bill would be to help rural communities and provide food assistance to poor families and children.
He noted that the bill will provide the money for the nation’s food stamp program, which helps poor families buy groceries even as it provides an key market for US farmers.
“More than half of all Americans will experience poverty at some point during their adult lives,” he said. “For more than half a century, this country has helped Americans put food on the table when they hit a rough patch or when they’re working hard but aren’t making enough money to feed their kids. They’re not looking for a handout. . . they’re looking for a hand up.”