Madam President, this afternoon, the 2013 Farm Bill conference committee will finally convene for the first time, bringing us one step closer to finishing the Farm Bill. I know you, I know that Madam President, being the Senator from Wisconsin understands how important this is to our country's future, and certainly the farmers and businesses and the families in Minnesota understand how important this bill is.
We have waited a long time to go to this conference committee. The Senate, as you know, has passed two farm bills now that really continue the strong policies of the last Farm Bill, but in fact save $24 billion, reduce the debt by $24 billion over the Farm Bill that is currently in place. I am part of the group that negotiated the details of the bill to help finish the process that started over two years ago.
Before I go on about the details of this Senate bill, I would like to thank Chairman Stabenow for her incredible leadership and perseverance in getting us to this point that has been so long awaited. Under Chairman Stabenow's leadership, the Senate Agriculture Committee put together a Farm Bill that strengthens the safety net for our nation's farmers and ranchers, streamlines our agriculture and conservation and nutrition programs while still keeping them strong and as I mentioned reducing $24 billion from the nation's debt.
Throughout the process, we faced unprecedented challenges and delay. We have the lack of a dance partner over in the House, but then of course we have the traditional issues -- regional disputes about how certain crops and commodities should be handled, some few partisan issues here and there, but somehow we were able to come together to the point where the Senate bill was supported by 68 senators, Madam President, including 18 Republicans. I believe that this is a testament to the open process we had, the endless amendments that we voted on on the floor, as well as a strong committee that was brought together to work on this bill.
No matter where i go in my state, and I'm sure you have seen this in Wisconsin, I am always reminded of the critical role that agriculture plays in our economy. Minnesota is number one in turkey, something we think of a lot as we head into the Thanksgiving season. We are number one in sweet corn, number one in green peas and oats. We are number two in hogs. I don't think people would think about that with our state, but we have surpassed some other states and are number two in hogs and spring wheat. We're number two in soybeans and number four in corn.
But we don't just grow the crops and raise the livestock. We are also home to a number of major agricultural companies which have kept our economy strong and is one of the reasons that our unemployment rate is down to 5.1% in Minnesota. These companies include Hormel, Cargill and Land of Lakes.
That's why one of the first things I did when I came to the Senate was ask to be on the Agriculture Committee. I am honored to serve on this conference committee and to team up with my friend and House colleague, House member Colin Peterson who will be leading the Democratic side in the house as well as Congressman Tim Walz who represents the southern part of our state.
The expiration of the current farm bill on September 30 is hurting our agricultural economy and is creating a huge amount of uncertainty for our farmers and for our consumers. Last week, I visited with Minnesotans from across the state that want Congress to pass a farm bill. I was in Keister, Minnesota, where I got to ride in a combine and got to see the good work of our farmers as they harvested the corn. And i have to tell you, Madam President, that sitting in that combine after the three weeks of the shutdown, it was actually quite rewarding as i saw firsthand you can actually get results very quickly in a combine which I hope will happen in Congress as we move ahead.
From farmers in Redwood County to the Red River Valley to volunteers at a food bank in Minneapolis where we also had a joint event with hunger groups, conservation groups including pheasants forever, which is based in Minnesota, and the Farm Bureau and the Farmers Union, we all came together to say we had to get this done. I journeyed up to the Morehead area and joined Senator Hoeven in Fargo-Moorhead, or as we like to call it Morehead-Fargo in Minnesota. Two towns joined by a river -- divided by a river but joined by common interests. We met about the importance of sugar beets, about importance of a Farm Bill for that region of the country.
I have to tell you through my week, I quickly heard, which I'm sure you did in Wisconsin, that the people of this country are sick and tired of gridlock politics. They are sick and tired of people standing in the opposite corner of the boxing ring and throwing punches. They are sick and tired of a red light, green light game that's been played with policy. It is time to come together and get this done. I am convinced in there is any silver lining or hope that came out of the chaos of last month, it is that the American people saw firsthand why we need change, why we need to work together, and that is why, in fact, Senator Hoeven and I came together across the river to make a very strong statement that we thought we had to get this bill done.
As a member of the conference committee, I know that if we don't pass a new Farm Bill, farmers will not be able to sign up for crop insurance, something that is so central to this new bill and is a great part of the $24 billion in debt reduction. They won't be able to sign up for a conservation program at a time when we need more conservation, when we see a decline in our pheasant population, where we are seeing the signs that we need to have strong conservation programs. We would also see a skyrocketing of dairy prices as we would be going back to the farm bill that was placed in 1949. As I like to say at home, we don't want to party like it's 1949, and we certainly don't want to farm like it's 1949.
The failure to come together and to resolve the differences between the two bills now would likely result in either these 1949 prices or some kind of extension, and guess what? Ask the farmers and ranchers about that in South Dakota. They just saw a decimation to their cattle because of the sudden cold weather and blizzard that they experienced in South Dakota. This current bill that's in place does nothing to provide a safety net for them. That used to be in place but isn't in place because of the fact that we haven't passed a permanent Farm Bill. It does nothing if we simply extended it about energy programs or about changes we need to see in the milk program or about reforms or the aligning of our conservation programs. We simply can't afford to do that again.
Finally, it does nothing to reduce the debt if we simply extend the current program. Farmers and ranchers don't want another extension like the one we saw last year that left out the programs that I just mentioned, the livestock disaster program, any significant deficit reduction. I believe the Senate bill that we're heading into this afternoon at the conference committee lays a strong foundation for an agreement that can be supported on a bipartisan basis and signed in to law by the President.
Over the weekend I got a call from Greg Schwartz who works with the Minnesota corn growers. He actually called me while driving his combine and his words offer some perspectives. They were passed on to me as to where we've been and where we need to go. He said, we have been working on this farm bill for over two years ago and just want to get it done. Farmers are working around the clock on this year's harvest. And if you don't hear from us, its not because we don't care. It's because we have work to do.
Members of the farm bill conference committee have our work to do as well. I believe that Washington should strive to be more like the farmers and ranchers we represent who work until they get the job done. They can't just leave a bunch of corn or soybeans in the field because they get sick of it or they don't like their neighbor. They have to finish the job. If it starts getting cold out or if it is raining, they have to bring the harvest in before there is a blizzard. That's what they do and that's what we need to do. We have a time deadline here, an important reason to get moving on this bill.
I'd like to raise some areas of the Senate bill that I believe need to be preserving as part of the final agreement in near as possible to the way they are right now. I recognize there will be some compromise, but I think whatever compromise needs to work out should be closer to the bipartisan Senate bill that, as we know, had 14 Senate Republicans supporting the bill, including Senators in my part of the country, like Senator Grassley and Senator Hoeven. I know that important kinks need to be worked out in the area of nutrition. I think we can do that. But again I think given what we're seeing in terms of the cuts that we saw over in the House side, we have to get them much closer to where we are in the Senate bill, which is something that will keep a safety net not just for our farmers and conservation and wildlife but also for the people of this country.
Madam President, I believe the people who grow our food deserve to know that their livelihoods can't be swept away in the blink of an eye, either by market failures or by natural disasters. That's why in the Senate Farm Bill the foundation of the safety net is a strengthened crop insurance program. We made the program work better for underserved commodities and specialty crops. In recognition of the importance of crop insurance, we extended conservation compliance rules to this program to ensure that all producers benefiting from this safety net play by the same set of rules and keep our water clean and soil productive for future generations. This agreement has the support of agriculture, environment and wildlife leaders, including the National Corn Growers, the Environmental Defense Fund and Ducks Unlimited. That's quite a crew.
The senate bill pulls back on crop insurance subsidies for the wealthiest while ensuring that everyone can still participate in the program, keeping the risk pool strong. We also eliminated direct payments and further focused commodity entitlement programs on our family farmers by strengthening payment limits and rules that ensure that farmers and not urban millionaires are eligible for farm payments. We continued the successful sugar program, funded the livestock disaster programs, which I mentioned earlier, and put in place a safety net for dairy producers to address the wild volatility in that market. No one knows that better than the state of which is, which the home of a lot of cheese, a lot of cows and a lot of dairy. We streamlined conservation programs from 23 to 13, specifically I worked with Collin Peterson to ensure that local communities like those in the Red River Valley have the tools that they need to address conservation challenges like flooding.
The bill funds energy title programs to expand homegrown renewable energy production. When you look at our reduction in dependence on foreign oil from 60 per to 40%, in just the last few years -- you look at the increased drilling and natural gas, but you also look at biofuels, which are now 10% of our nation's fuel supply. These bills ensure that we are working to support our farmers and workers in the Midwest and not the oil cartels in the Middle East. That's why I strongly support mandatory funding for the energy title to help provide incentives for homegrown energy production from the next generation of biofuels to blender pumps. This is a vital industry in states like mine, supporting millions of jobs and millions of dollars in economic growth. I appreciate the support of Senator Franken, as many of us understand that you want an all-of-the-above energy approach. The Senate Bill ensures our energy innovators have the certainty and stability they need to he will have the next generation of American energy.
The Senate bill also includes a number of initiatives for beginning farmers and ranchers including two of my provisions. The first I introduced with Senator Baucus which would reduce the crop insurance costs for beginning farmers by 10%. My second provision that I introduced with Senators Johanns, Baucus and Hoeven would allow beginning producers to use conservation reserve program acres for grazing without a penalty. I believe they will go a long way in building the next generation of farmers. Both of these provisions should be included in the final bill.
I believe that if we want to recruit a new generation of farmers and ranchers, we must take further action to improve the quality of life in our small towns and our rural areas. That's why I worked with Senators Hoeven and Heitkamp and I led the amendment to provide additional resources for critical priorities in the Farm Bill, including research, something the Madam President knows something about from the University of Wisconsin, as well as rural development, conservation, and energy. Our provision funds the new nonprofit foundation, the Foundation for Food and Agricultural Research, to leverage private funding with the federal match to support agricultural research.
It provides additional funds to address the $3.2 billion backlog of water and waste water projects in rural America. You can't go to are a region of any state in rural America without hearing about this backlog of rural waste water and water projects and this amendment that we passed helps with that. It also increases funding for regional approach to conservation to address a variety of challenges including the flooding that we saw in the Red River Valley. The provision also adds an additional $1 million to the energy title to help farmers, ranchers, and rural businesses produce homegrown energy. I was pleased to get the strong support of our committee for that amendment, and I am pleased that's included in the final senate bill.
In the Senate we also preserved the essential nutrition programs that millions rely on. In recent years programs like the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program also known as SNAP have become especially important as hardworking families and seniors who are suddenly cash strapped but in need of groceries. One of my predecessors -- I have his desk -- Vice President Hubert Humphrey, was an early champion of the food stamp program now known as SNAP. As one of the founders of the Democratic Farmer Labor party in Minnesota, he understood the importance of a stable government program for both agricultural producers as well as families struggling to put food on the table and that is why we've always seen this combination of these programs. It makes sense. Food comes from farms. Food is a safety net for the people of this country, just as the farm provisions which are actually a minority of the provisions in this bill, that the farm provisions provide a safety net for those that provide food.
And what we've done with this bill, of course is being reduce some costs mandate it more efficient but still kept a strong safety net. For more than 40 years we've linked together food and farm policy in five-year farm bills. Nearly 72% of snap participants are families with children and more than one-quarter of participants are in households with seniors or people with disabilities. This is not the time to make the deep cuts, as proposed in the House, to programs that provide important support for working families, low-income seniors and people with disabilities with fixed income. Yet what we've seen with those cuts that we'll be discussing on the House side includes 170,000 veterans who would be cut off from food assistance if the house bill were to pass.
The Senate Bill makes reforms that I believe were necessary that brings the debt down by $4 billion, reforms that were necessary. It is not like there were no reforms in the Senate bill. 68 senators voted for this bipartisan bill, including 14 Republicans. The cuts proposed by the House are in addition to the $11 billion cuts to the program that will go into place Friday when the American Reinvestment Recovery Act Supplemental Nutrition Payments expire. This program is already moving in the right direction. As the economy has improved, nutrition assistance has been further focused on families in areas with the greatest need. In fact, the CBO projects that without any changes to the program, the number of people eligible for nutrition assistance and the cost of nutrition programs will continue to fall as the economy improves.
In this way, nutrition programs operate a lot like the farm safety net for agriculture producers. Just as agriculture payments spiked during the 2012 drought, which was the worst since the 19 50's, the need for nutrition assistance similarly increased when our economy was struck with the worst recession since the 1930's. When farmers are blessed with a strong harvest, we've designed agriculture and nutrition programs to adjust accordingly and be reduced. Instead of trying to find ways to make people ineligible for nutrition assistance, we need to focus on real solutions that put people back to work. This Farm Bill is an opportunity to do that.
As an alumna of the efforts, the American Innovation Act, workforce training, bringing the tax reform in, bringing the corporate tax rate down and paid for, but if we continue to engage in the brinksmanship like we did in the last month, we'll never get to the core issue. I believe we have so many opportunities out there, when you look how we're situated right now with manufacturing, we need do things like the immigration bill to actually help the economy move forward. I think this Farm Bill is the first chance, the first opportunity that out of this chaos came something positive. It is a five-year Farm Bill. It has worked in the past. It brings the debt down by $24 billion. It's a bipartisan bill. Let's show the people of America that we mean business about working across the aisle.