6 things about the 2014 Farm Bill

The U.S. Senate is ready to give final approval on Tuesday to a major farm bill that will set out farm and food stamp policies for the next five years, at a cost of almost $100 billion each year.

At 959 pages in actual bill text, and another 186 pages in report language, it's almost assured that most lawmakers never read much more than some highlights about the bill, if that.

So, let's give you half a dozen things that you should know about the Farm Bill.

1. It probably shouldn't be called the "Farm Bill" 

The Farm Bill is no longer the Farm Bill, because almost 80% of the spending involved in it goes to food stamps and other nutrition programs run by Uncle Sam. The other 20% deals with farm subsidies, crop insurance, commodity and conservation programs. The Nutrition section of the bill (food stamps) would cost an estimated $756 billion over ten years - that leaves only $200 billion for everything else in the legislation. The biggest "other" items would be Crop Insurance (almost $90 billion), followed by Conservation ($57.6 billion) and Commodities ($44.4 billion).

2. There are some reforms in farm subsidies

The Farm Bill does do away with 'direct subsidies' to farmers - even for some who didn't plant anything - that ran up a cost of about $5 billion each year; in its place will be a new crop insurance program that forces farmers to have some actual financial losses before they can get federal payments. Dairy farmers are also having their program replaced, ending supply controls from the government, and starting some called a "margin protection program.' The bill includes some limits on how much farmers can get each year in federal payments and loans - that figure is $125,000; farmers with a 3-year average adjusted gross income of $900,000 and above will not be eligible for commodity and conservation payment programs.

3. There are some special items in the bill

While it would be a good pun to say that this Farm Bill is stuffed with "pork" - there aren't that many direct earmarks for the folks back home - but you can dig around and find a few of those home state items. For example, there is a provision for Central State University in Ohio, that allows the historically black college to receive federal aid meant for black land-grant universities, called 1890 Universities (Central State was not one of those 1890 land-grant schools.) The Farm Bill also requires the feds to report to Congress on conservation efforts dealing with the lesser prairie chicken. One more specific plan authorizes $125 million over five years to help fight a citrus disease that has hit crops in Florida, known as 'citrus greening.'

4. The "Christmas tree tax" gets new life

The Farm Bill orders the Secretary of Agriculture to get out of the way, and end an administrative stay that blocks a new "industry-funded promotion, research, and information program for fresh-cut Christmas trees." This would be sort of like the "Got Milk?" program, where farmers and producers contribute into a promotional fund, also known as a 'checkoff.' In this case, the 'checkoff' would be 15 cents for each tree, with the money being used to promote Christmas trees; opponents argue that fee would be passed on to consumers in the form of higher prices, hence the sobriquet "Christmas tree tax."

5. Farm Bill awash in 'pilot projects'

A quick search of the final legislative text of the farm bill finds 138 mentions of the word 'pilot' as the plan authorizes all kinds of new efforts in the food and agricultural arenas. There's a pilot project for 'procurement of unprocessed fruits and vegetables," a pilot program for development accounts aimed at beginning farmers, an index-based weather insurance pilot program, pilot projects to fight food stamp fraud, and more. There were two unlucky pilot projects from the past, as the bill repeals two programs that combined medical and agricultural research.

6. Don't forget the grants

The Farm Bill authorizes twenty different grant programs covering a wide variety of items, everything from grants for 'innovative conservation practices' to grants for Hispanic agricultural workers, grants for international agricultural science, grants for specialty crops and $1 million in grants to buy weather radios. That weather radio program was first included in the 2002 Farm Bill, which can offset 75% of the cost of NOAA weather radios for those living in remote and rural areas.

If you want to read the Farm Bill, you can see the 959 pages of legislative text and read the extra pages of report language on the bill.