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President Obama signs farm bill at Michigan State University

About 500 people packed a Michigan State University campus hall Friday to witness President Barack Obama sign the new federal farm bill.

The event capped years of negotiations and some tough compromises with Congress on the complex legislation. President Obama said he’s always glad to return to Michigan to cheer the auto industry recovery. Now, he says, it’s time to do the same for agriculture and rural America.

“A jobs bill, an innovation bill, an infrastructure bill, a conservation bill, a research bill. It’s like a Swiss Army knife,” said Obama, highlighting that the legislation is about more than just farming.

“This bill helps rural communities by investing in hospitals and schools, affordable housing, broadband infrastructure – all the things that help attract more businesses and make life easier for working families. This bill helps support businesses that are developing cutting-edge bio-fuels like some of the work that’s being done here at Michigan State.”

The president says he’s not happy with everything in the farm bill. But he says he would not have signed anything that denied benefits to vulnerable families or children.

Senator Debbie Stabenow joined President Obama in East Lansing for the Farm Bill signing. Stabenow spent about three years spearheading the effort to pass the legislation in Congress.

She called the event “a perfect ending to a very big challenge.”

“Having the president come here, of course to my alma mater, to celebrate and sign it just is wonderful,” said Stabenow.

She says Michigan State University will benefit from new research funding included in the bill. And she says every rural community in Michigan could see new funding for development because of the legislation.

President Obama was also joined by U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who said Michigan was the right choice for the bill signing. Vilsack said that’s because of the state’s diverse farming industry and its emphasis on agricultural research. He says the bill will also help the state protect its natural resources.

“This is a state that, because of its focus on the Great Lakes and some of the water that is so critically important to this state, understands the importance of conservation,” said Vilsack. “This bill creates a new opportunity for us to regionalize and partner with the private and nonprofit sector to expand conservation. So it’s very appropriate for the president to be here.”

Vilsack also praised Congress for keeping cuts to food assistance smaller than they might have been. The bill includes $8.5 billion in cuts to food stamps.

Rick Pluta is Senior Capitol Correspondent for the Michigan Public Radio Network. He has been covering Michigan’s Capitol, government, and politics since 1987.
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