By Deborah Courson Smith Big Sky Connection

GREAT FALLS – A proposal to split the Farm Bill into a piece on farm policy and one on nutrition policy was quick to light a fire under the Montana Farmers Union, which opposed the move. U.S. House leadership floated the plan on Tuesday, with mostly party-line responses of Republicans supporting it and Democrats opposing it.

Montana Farmers Union president Alan Merrill pointed out that farm and nutrition policies were merged decades ago to bridge the rural-urban divide. He said he supports renaming the whole package the “Food Bill.”

“If it was called the food bill, I think the people would understand it more closely because it helps the farmer that produces the food that helps the people that are hungry,” he explained.

Merrill said he suspects that splitting the votes on farm policy and nutrition would allow more attacks on the food stamp program, called SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program), as well as the dismantling of farm programs. The American Farm Bureau Federation also opposed splitting the bill, and both organizations found like-minded views from more than 500 groups in just a few hours.

Merrill warned people not to get distracted by the attacks on the food stamp program, because the move to split the bill would also make another fundamental change: It would repeal farm policy law.

“We do not want the repeal of the permanent farm law, because once that’s gone there is no safety net for farmers,” he warned. “There is none.”

When the original Farm Bill was crafted, it garnered bipartisan support while keeping in mind a balance of food production, conservation, nutrition and rural development, he explained.