President Obama, after an address to political dignitaries, the media and MSU community members signed the farm bill into law Friday afternoon on MSU’s campus.
In front of a backdrop of artifacts from pastoral America, including a tractor and hay bales, his remarks before the signing highlighted agriculture’s importance to the economy, and emphasized the ways in which the legislation would benefit farmers throughout the country.
Obama began his remarks with a declaration of “Go green,” to which the audience replied heartily.
Obama touted the economy’s positive outlook, but addressed economic inequality.
“We’ve got to build an economy that works for everybody, not just a few,” Obama said.
He said the country must “guarantee access to a world-class education for every child, not just some.”
Agriculture is Michigan’s second-largest industry and makes up almost one in four jobs in the state.
Several dozen MSU students were seated in bleachers to the left of the stage at the Mary Anne McPhail Equine Performance Center. Several hundred invited guests were seated around the stage and as seating became scarce, attendees perched along the walls to get a better glimpse of the president.
MSU Acting Provost June Youatt began the event and said “many MSU programs, and also Michigan farms and citizens,” would benefit from the legislation. Youatt introduced U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich.
An MSU alumna, Stabenow chairs the Senate Agriculture Committee and worked to get the farm bill through Congress, a process that took three years.
She hailed the legislation as a bipartisan effort, and espoused a multitude of the bill’s positive benefits. Stabenow said the the farm bill would increase jobs and promote use of biofuels, increase conservation efforts and promote economic development.
The president arrived at Capital Region International Airport in Air Force One and toured Michigan Biotechnology Institute in Lansing before traveling to MSU.
The farm bill, officially known as the Agriculture Act of 2014, will bring sweeping changes that the Michigan Farm Bureau has said “marks a paradigm shift in farm policy.”
The legislation’s largest impact will be the ending of direct payment subsidies to farmers — cash directly paid to farmers to raise the price of the crops they grow, regardless of circumstance. Ending the subsidies will cut spending by $23.3 billion.
The president was introduced by a farmer from Leelanau County, Mich., whose cherry crops would be insured under the new act.
The farm bill will institute a new type of financial safety net for farmers, expanding crop insurance to specialty fruit and vegetable crops that are widely grown in Michigan. Unlike subsidies, the insurance would only be disbursed because of events like natural disasters and crop price drops.
The president said the farm bill has a reach that extends beyond agriculture.
“It’s creating more good jobs, and gives more americans a shot at opportunity,” Obama said.
The government’s food stamp program also received a cut under the new legislation of about $9 billion — smaller cuts than many Republicans desired — but Obama said the legislation would help more vulnerable Americans.
Obama used his remarks before the bill signing to announce a “Made in Rural America” initiative.