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MSU Farm Bill signing controversial

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In a sign of just how deep the disconnect is in Washington, simply the place where President Obama will take pen in left hand to put his signature on the 2014 Farm Bill has disappointed foes and allies alike.

At the invitation of Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.), President Barack Obama will sign the bill today in East Lansing, Mich., on the campus of Michigan State University. Michigan State is the first state-chartered land-grant institution. Federally mandated by the Morill Act of 1862, land-grant universities were unique in their time because their mission was practical education in agriculture, among other subjects, not liberal-arts studies. Michigan State is perhaps best-known for its dairy program, and is called in some circles "Moo U". MSU was also one of many models for the Jane Smiley novel, "Moo".

While the signing of a Farm Bill outside Washington may seem appropriate, (Michigan has one of the nation's most diverse farm economies), Politico reported late Thursday that legislators and staffers alike were disappointed by the lack of an opportunity to celebrate the hard work that goes into a major piece of bi-partisan legislation. Both Stabenow and the White House alike defended the decision.

“The president needs to sign a farm bill outside of Washington D.C. I’m thrilled he wants to go to America’s first land grant university,” Stabenow told Politico. “I think it’s wonderful.”

“The President believes it’s important to get out of Washington and talk to the American people about policies that will impact their lives — and the farm bill is a perfect example,” a White House spokesman said. “Visiting Michigan — and America’s first land-grant university — will also provide an opportunity to see firsthand the research that institutions like Michigan State are doing to create jobs and drive innovation that benefits farmers, ranchers, our rural communities, and our nation as a whole.”

Nor is the bill itself without controversy. The Associated Press summarizes its content thus: "The bill expands federal crop insurance and ends direct government payments to farmers, but the bulk of its cost is for the food stamp program that aids 1 in 7 Americans.

The bill cuts food stamps by $800 million a year, or around 1 percent, one-fifth of the cut approved last fall by the Republican-led House. Conservatives remain unhappy with the bill and its subsidies for groups ranging from sheep farmers to the maple syrup industry."

More specifically, The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition offered this analysis of the consequences of the bill to organic agriculture: "Overall, organic agriculture did well in the bill. The National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program is now funded at $11.5 million annually, up from just over $5 million annually, to offset the costs of annual certification for organic farmers and handlers. The bill renews funding for the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative at the previous $20 million per year level, and for the Organic Production and Market Data Initiatives at $5 million over five years, the same as in the previous farm bill. The National Organic Program also receives $5 million for technology upgrades."

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