The bipartisan Farm Bill from the U.S. Senate’s Agriculture Committee passed Wednesday morning and will include provisions to protect Lake Erie.
In a news conference call, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Cleveland, who sits on the committee, said the bill will include the Give Our Resources the Opportunity to Work, or GROW, Act, which will invest in conservation programs that help farmers prevent phosphorous runoff.
“It really allows us to reform conservation and refocus our efforts to prevent runoff into Lake Erie,” he said, noting it will be an asset to farmers near rivers like the Sandusky and Maumee, which flow into the lake. “They’re near the western basin, which typically suffers from a lot of pollution and algal blooms in part because of how shallow it is.”
Brown, whose office held roundtables across the state — including one in Oberlin to speak with stakeholders about the Farm Bill — said the key to keeping Lake Erie clean is to keep working at it.
“You can’t just clean up the lake and then walk away,” he said. “You have to work with local farmers to keep rivers clean while still targeting the protection of our natural resources.”
The current version of the Farm Bill, which governs several agriculture- and nutrition-related programs, was passed in 2014 and is expected to run out at the end of September.
Brown said Majority Leader Mitch McConnell attended the Wednesday committee meeting and the Senate’s version of the bill could be on the floor as soon as July. Once it goes to the House of Representatives, though, that’s a different ballgame because the chamber couldn’t come to a bipartisan agreement.
“We will do our job, though, to make sure it’s bipartisan,” he said.
Another provision in the bill Brown introduced was the Local Food and Regional Market Supply, or FARMS, Act, which would make it easier for consumers to get products made or grown in their area.
“Why should someone in Ohio buy raspberries from California when they can get them from Ohio?” he said. “We wanted to get the funding for farmers to sell directly to consumers.”
He also introduced provisions that would protect the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, the most recent iteration of food stamps.