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A basic overview of new farm bill for Southeast farmers

The 2018 Farm Bill emerged as a cohesive report from a special House and Senate conference committee and quickly gained momentum for a sprint to the legislative finish line.

The lame duck session of Congress provided sound footing for the 2018 Farm Bill as it emerged as a cohesive report from a special House and Senate committee, and the bill quickly gained momentum for a sprint to the legislative finish line.

The Senate and the House passed in a big bipartisan way last week the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, and President Donald Trump is expected to sign it this week.

Alabama Farmers Federation provided some highlights of the bill. Including:

  • Reference prices in the Price Loss Coverage (PLC) program may increase up to 115 percent based on market prices and are incorporated in the Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) program calculation. PLC yields may be voluntarily updated in 2020. Farmers will have the option to choose between ARC and PLC on a crop‐by‐crop and farm‐by‐farm basis in 2019 and annually beginning in 2021. 
  • Marketing loan rates increase by varying amounts. The rate for soybeans rises 24 percent to $6.20 a bushel. For corn, the loan rate increases to $2.20 per bushel, up from $1.95. The wheat loan rate changes from $2.94 per bushel to $3.38. Payment limits on marketing loan gains and loan deficiency payments are eliminated in the 2018 bill. 
  • Payment limitations remain unchanged, and the family definition is amended to allow nieces, nephews and cousins in family farm operations to participate in programs.
  • Conservation programs are retained. The Conservation Reserve Program acreage cap increases to 27 million acres, but rental rates and incentive payments are reduced to limit government competition with farmers who lease land.
  • $75 million is approved for feral swine control.
  • Crop insurance is preserved, as are existing disaster programs. 

The conference report, the foundational document of the farm bill, gives producers a new choice between ARC and PLC on a crop‐by‐crop and farm‐by‐farm basis, applied jointly to the 2019 and 2020 crop years.

Beginning in crop year 2021, producers will have the flexibility to make an annual decision between ARC and PLC on a crop‐by‐crop and farm‐by‐farm basis, according to information courtesy of ALFA. The PLC Reference Prices to adjust with improvements in market prices. This Effective Reference Price is calculated as the greater of 85 percent of the 5‐year Olympic average price and the PLC Reference Price established in the 2014 Farm Bill. In no case can the Effective Reference Price be more than 115 percent of the PLC Reference Price.

Producers may update the yield on the farm for each covered commodity to 90 percent of the average yield per planted acre on the farm from 2013‐2017—ignoring years where the covered commodity was not planted on the farm—multiplied by the yield update factor for the covered commodity listed in the table below. For any year in which the yield on the farm was less than 75 percent of the county average yield from 2013‐2017, owners may plug 75 percent of the county average yield

Fruits and Vegetables

Mike Bruorton, Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association president, said the bill contained some ‘major victories’ for the fresh produce industry. The farm bill will allocate $3 billion in resources and policy changes dedicated to support important programs targeted by the fresh fruit and vegetable industry, including:

  • Enhanced research funding for the Specialty Crop Research Initiative
  • Support for several other programs that help growers with insect, disease and pest management
  • Continued strong investment in the Specialty Crop Block Grant program
  • Support for trade programs to aid growers in expanding export opportunities
  • Nutrition program initiatives that increase consumer's and school children's access to fresh produce

“We are very pleased with the support of the Georgia delegation to pass this critical legislation for our growers and all of American agriculture. We appreciate the hard work of those members of the Agriculture Committee that drafted this legislation to ensure assistance and support of the fruit and vegetable industry," said GFVGA President. "This bill is a win-win for both the American consumer, to ensure they have access to nutritious fruits and vegetables, and to our GFVGA members to help with programs that support our industry. We truly appreciate the members of the Georgia delegation and their support in passing this critical legislation."

Peanut and Cotton

“This is a solid farm bill for all segments of the peanut industry and it provides stability to growers planning for the 2019 crop and beyond," says Armond Morris, a Georgia peanut farmer and chairman of the Southern Peanut Farmers Federation and Georgia Peanut Commission. "The (Congressional) conference committee leadership has worked well together and has delivered this important legislation to the president, and we really appreciate their hard work."
The bill includes many of the cotton industry’s policy priorities, according information provided by the National Cotton Council, including the continuation of the Seed Cotton ARC/PLC program.

According to U.S. Congressman Austin Scott’s (R-GA) office, the bill bolsterers broadband access to rural areas, too, including

  • Authorizing the USDA Secretary to deem projects that have received Rural Utilities Services (RUS) grants as unserved if they do not meet the minimum broadband speed of ten megabits per second download and one megabit per second upload, unless they have begun or already constructed broadband facilities in that area which would meet the minimum standard.
  • Authorizing USDA to make loans and grants to middle-mile broadband projects, which link rural regions to the internet backbone connections needed to provide high speed internet. Middle mile is often the most expensive and riskiest investment for broadband deployment.

The bill continues disaster programs such as:

  • Livestock Indemnity Program, which provides assistance to livestock producers in the event of the death or forced sale of livestock due to an eligible cause of loss. The conference report updates the eligible causes of loss to include disease and deaths of unweaned livestock, so all livestock death losses are consolidated under one program (whereas certain losses were previously covered under ELAP.
  • Livestock Forage Program, which provides feed cost replacement for livestock producers in the event off storage loss due to severe drought. The conference report maintains this critical assistance for livestock producers.
  • Tree Assistance Program, which offers cost-share assistance to eligible orchardists who suffer loss or damage to tree groves. Producers may receive 65 percent of the cost of replanting trees or 50 percent of the cost to remove damaged limbs and vines. The conference report increases the cost share to 75 percent for beginning farmers and veterans.

Kentucky U.S. Senator Mitch McConnell, the Senate majority leader, included in the bill a measure to legalizes hemp as an agricultural commodity by removing it from the federal list of controlled substances. It also gives states the opportunity to become the primary regulators of hemp production, allows hemp researchers to apply for competitive federal grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and makes hemp eligible for crop insurance. This measure builds upon the hemp pilot programs, which Senator McConnell secured in the 2014 Farm Bill, according to information provided by McConnell’s office. McConnell signed the conference committee report with a hemp pen.

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