WASHINGTON (Detroit Free Press) -- President Barack Obama will sign the federal farm bill - a massive piece of legislation given final passage Tuesday in the U.S. Senate - while visiting East Lansing on Friday.
The White House confirmed Tuesday that Obama will sign the bill after an event at Michigan State University early Friday afternoon, during which he will discuss the legislation's importance to the economy. The farm bill was shepherded to final passage by U.S. Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee.
While in East Lansing, the president will also "see firsthand the research that institutions like MSU are doing to create jobs and drive innovation that benefits farmers, ranchers, our rural communities and our nation as a whole," the White House said.
The event is to be held at the Mary Anne McPhail Equine Performance Center, a source with knowledge of the event told the Detroit Free Press.
"This is an important piece of legislation for the country. It not only provides strong support for new research enterprises, but it also strengthens and grows Michigan's agriculture economy and helps sustain America's global competitiveness," MSU President Lou Anna Simon said in a statement. "As the pioneer land-grant institution in America, we are honored and pleased that President Obama will be signing the farm bill on MSU's campus."
Tuesday's 68-32 vote in the Senate culminated some three years of work on the legislation, which initially split over cuts to food stamps. It was approved in the Republican-led U.S. House last week.
The legislation ends the practice of providing direct payments to farmers while keeping other price-loss protections in place. Officials say its provisions could greatly help Michigan growers of cherries, apples and blueberries because it increases programs boosting so-called specialty crops and for the first time expands crop insurance to fruit and vegetable growers.
The Michigan Farm Bureau praised the bill, saying it ends years of uncertainty for growers and moves "away from controversial direct payments to growers.
"Obviously, this is welcome news for farmers in Michigan and across the country," said Wayne H. Wood, president of the Michigan Farm Bureau. Stabenow, he said, "worked like a farmer to keep this bill moving forward, making fixes and fine-tuning all the little moving parts."
At the White House's request, the Michigan Farm Bureau recruited farmers from five regions to meet with the president and discuss the need for immigration reform, said Ryan Findlay, national legislative counsel for the Delta Township-based group.
Findlay said he expects those farmers will be audience members, although he had not received confirmation from the White House late Tuesday afternoon.
"We're looking at this as an opportunity to discuss immigration reform," said Findlay, who said Michigan farmers were hurt by a labor shortage in 2013 during a strong growing year.
"Those farmers will tell you there were policy changes in (Washington) D.C. that limited the number of migrants entering the U.S. and policy changes at the state level that prevented those workers from traveling around the United States," he said.
A third factor: At least some migrant workers who went elsewhere during the drought-ravaged 2012 growing season changed their work pattern and did not return the following year, he said.
Joshua Pugh, a spokesman for the Michigan Democratic Party, said MSU's reputation for agricultural research earned it national recognition.
"This is just an incredibly important bill for Michigan's economy, and the U.S. economy," Pugh said.
The farm bill has been a long time coming. The last farm bill was approved in 2008. The Democratic majority in the Senate helped approve a previous farm bill, but it failed in the House when Republicans couldn't initially settle on how to handle the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP - otherwise known as food stamps - and how much to cut from that program.
As passed, the legislation trims $8 billion from food stamps - more than the $4 billion cut in the earlier Senate bill, but less than the $40 billion initially proposed in the House.
"This is not your father's farm bill," Stabenow said. "There are a lot of reforms in this farm bill."
The legislation makes its cuts by reducing waste and abuse in the program and reining in a mechanism by which some states award extra food stamp benefits to individuals and families that received token amounts of home heating assistance. Winners of substantial lottery or other gambling prizes also will no longer be able to collect food stamp benefits.
By Todd Spanger, Gannett Michigan