BOISE -- Agriculture is a billion-dollar industry in Idaho, employing tens of thousands of people. But changes could be on the horizon for all those Idaho farms when it comes to how farmers are paid by the federal government.
Right now, the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives are working on their versions of the 'farm bill,' which is actually a collection of bills that are passed every five years or so. And this collection deals with more than just farms. It also addresses things like conservation and food stamps.
Idaho GOP Senator Mike Crapo was in town this week, so we asked him about the bill and how it might change the way all farmers do business.
"The major change for the individual Idaho farmer will be the transition from the traditional crop payment programs to the crop insurance programs," said Crapo.
The legislation proposes stopping direct federal payments to farmers, who can be paid whether they grow crops or not. Instead, the bill would increase funding for crop insurance, which covers decreases in farmers' crop yields or revenue.
"They get more skin in the game," said Crapo. "We get away from some of the commodity compensation-type payment systems, and move more to a risk-reduction system through crop insurance. That's a big shift."
But that insurance comes with conservation requirements for farmers.
"There are a lot of other conservation programs in the farm bill," said Crapo. "In fact, one of the things that I've constantly reminded people of, is that the biggest pro-environment, pro-conservation bill that Congress ever deals with, is the farm bill."
Overall, the farm bill is projected to save the government about $25-billion over the next 10 years. Part of those savings also come from cutting billions from the food stamp program.
Critics say that could cause millions to go hungry. Crapo says the government needs to cut costs across the board and in every program in this bill.
"Right now, that's part of the big debate in Washington, to what extent the food programs, like the Food Stamp Program, and the other programs will also participate in cost reduction," said Crapo.
Again, this is still just a bill and not law. In fact, last year congress didn't pass the Senate's farm bill, as it failed in the House.
"We weren't able to get it done in the last congress. I'm confident," Crapo said, then smiling and correcting himself. "I'm hopefully confident that we'll get it done in this congress."
Right now, the House is also working on it's version of the farm bill. Crapo says he expects the Senate version to pass next week, and the House version could pass soon after.
Then, he expects leaders to go into conference and come out with a bill that the entire congress can pass.
Senator Crapo's tour of Idaho this past week comes on the heels of last month's disclosure that his campaign lost $250,000 on a bad loan and his DUI arrest in December. But Crapo told the Associated Press that he hasn't thought of retiring, or considered how all that might affect his possible 2016 re-election.
"No, the answer is definitely not," said Crapo. "I think serving in the U.S. Senate is an incredible honor. I've been very engaged in the 'Gang of Six' and the other efforts to deal with our national debt crisis. I'm still fully engaged in that and all of the other aspects of my responsibilities in Washington, D.C."