Hope is back in the air on 2018 farm bill passage as farm bill leaders announced this week they’ve reached an agreement in principle. But the to-do list still could be a hard climb to accomplish in the final weeks Congress is in session with a projected recess date of Dec. 13.
“We are working to finalize legal and report language as well as [Congressional Budget Office] scores, but we still have more work to do. We are committed to delivering a new farm bill to America as quickly as possible,” the House and Senate agriculture committee leaders said in a joint statement.
Details of the deal were slim as the principles wait for drafting of the final legislation and scoring by the Congressional Budget Office. Members of Congress and their staff cautioned against releasing details because they could change pending the completion of the costs analysis and legislative language.
House Agriculture Committee chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, had been pushing stricter work requirements as well a wheat acreage update that could divert as much as $500 million more to cotton farmers.
Reports indicate that the final version will blend the House and Senate versions on the nutrition title, but lean more towards the Senate’s version. Other unresolved issues shortly before the agreement in principle announcement included the conservation title and regulatory language.
One of the last hiccups appeared to be from a dispute House Republicans and the White House had with the Senate on how to handle forestry regulations and wildfire prevention. As the fires burned in California, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue called for Congress to make permanent and expand existing insect and disease categorical exclusions that help prevent forest fires in the future or lessen the degree of forest fires.
House Democrats and those in the Senate argued that the change wasn't needed, as the omnibus forest management package passed in March already offered the authority to use the exclusion to expedite fuel-clearing projects under certain conditions to prevent wildfires.
“The Trump Administration is politicizing this tragedy to push damaging policies that will harm our forests. Instead, it should be supporting existing fire prevention tools it praised earlier this year,” Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., said.
National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) president Lynn Chrisp said it was critical that farmers and rural communities have a new farm bill this year. “NCGA is grateful for today’s announcement that sets the steps in motion to ensure that happens. Our grower members have been making phone calls and sending emails to Capitol Hill urging lawmakers to reach a deal before year’s end. We thank them for heeding this call and look forward to fully reviewing the conference agreement,” Chrisp said.
American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall said, "The 2018 farm bill emerging from the conference committee is good news for farmers amid a prolonged downturn in the agricultural economy. Chairmen Roberts and Conaway and Ranking Members Stabenow and Peterson made the bill a priority for this Congress, and all Americans—farmers and consumers—are better off for it.”
Duvall added, “Continued access to risk management tools, assistance in foreign market development, and conservation and environmental stewardship programs within the legislation are especially important for farmers and ranchers. These programs will help provide certainty to rural America at a time when it is much needed given the financial headwinds so many family farms now face. Additionally, the bill continues to help low-income children, families, seniors and military veterans access the high-quality foods produced by farm families.”
John Piotti, president and CEO, American Farmland Trust, added, “We look forward to further analyzing the contents of the bill as additional information is available. We are encouraged by this important step towards a final 2018 Farm Bill that will provide certainty and support to our farmers and ranchers and resources to protect the agricultural land that sustains us.”