What's in the $1 trillion farm bill?

Sprinklers water a wheat crop on May 7, 2008, south of Bakersfield, California. Urgent calls for California residents to conserve water have grown in the wake of the final Sierra Nevada Mountains snow survey of the season indicating a snow depth and water content at only 67 percent of normal levels. The Sierra snowpack is vital to California water supplies and officials are preparing plans for mandatory water conservation. In Southern California, the Metropolitan Water District, cut deliveries to farmers by nearly a third and growers in Fresno and Kings counties have not planted about 200,000 acres of crops, a third of the land irrigated by Westlands Water District. Many farmers are now selling their government-subsidized water for profit instead of using it to plant crops. Much of the California water supply comes from the Colorado River where a continuing eight-year drought has lowered water storage to roughly half of capacity. Dry conditions across the West have already doubled the wildfires this year causing fire officials to brace for a possible repeat of the devastating 2007 southern California wildfire season.
David McNew/Getty Images

Updated 6:15 p.m. ET

The Senate is back from recess and is expected to pass the farm bill this week, legislation that sets agricultural policy and funding levels for food stamps.

The Congressional Budget Office estimates that the bill will cost taxpayers $955 billion over the next 10 years. About 80 percent of this money will go to nutrition assistance programs, such as food stamps, for the needy. The rest of the money will pay for other provisions, primarily crop insurance subsidies for farmers as well as conservation, renewable energy and other agriculture programs.

The biggest change in this farm bill from years past is the elimination of the direct payments that the federal government gives to farmers, even during times of successful crop yields. This bill instead transitions to a risk management system that supports farmers only when they are hurt by weather disasters or fluctuating commodity prices.

In past years during the old direct payment system, the government would sometimes pay farmers not to grow crops. This new system would have the government step in only to keep farms afloat if they are suffering from losses due to events beyond the farmers control and will help subsidize crop insurance.

Some other changes in this year's farm bill include increased support and funding for community farmers' markets to promote Americans eating more locally grown food. It also includes programs designed to encourage younger Americans to enter into farming as a profession. The average farmer in the U.S. today is in his late 50s.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., who co-authored the bill, said that the farm bill will reduce the deficit while at the same time create jobs.

"Because the Agriculture Committee worked across party lines to cut unnecessary programs and streamline others, we were able to reduce the deficit while strengthening initiatives that boost exports, help family farmers sell locally and spur innovations in new bio-manufacturing and bio-energy industries," she said.