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Farm Bill conference report passes Senate

Trump pledges support for bill, which was signed by Farm Bill conferees on Monday.

The 2018 Farm Bill conference report passed the Senate on a bipartisan 87-13 vote Tuesday, Dec. 11. The House of Representatives is set to debate and vote on the conference report as early as Dec. 12.

“We are thrilled to report the U.S. Senate has acted to give certainty and predictability to rural America,” said Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. “The U.S. Senate has already delivered a historic vote for the Senate Farm Bill. Now, we are even happier to report a 87-13 vote on the conference report. This is the mark of a good bill. We urge our colleagues in the House of Representatives to pass this conference report quickly.” 

The Farm Bill Conference Committee held a public hearing on Sept. 5. Agriculture Committee leaders announced a deal on Nov. 29.

The conference report was signed by the Senate and House Farm Bill conferees Monday. 

“This Farm Bill meets the needs of producers across all regions and all crops,” Roberts said. “And, it ensures that our voluntary conservation programs are keeping farm land in operation while protecting our agriculture lands, forests, and other natural resources.” 

The Senate Agriculture Committee favorably reported out the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, commonly referred to as the Farm Bill, on June 13, 2018. The bipartisan 5-year legislation encompasses a broad array of agriculture, nutrition, conservation, and forestry policy.

Here’s an overview

  • Protects crop insurance and expands coverage to new crops including fruits, vegetables, hops, and barley. The bill also improves crop insurance access for veterans, beginning farmers, and fruit and vegetable growers, and more than doubles the disaster assistance coverage options for crops that are not eligible for insurance.
  • Improves risk management options for commodity crop farmers and dramatically expands the coverage for dairy farmers.  Building on the $1.1 billion added to support dairy farmers in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, the bill provides improved coverage options at more affordable rates and refunds up to $58 million in premiums paid under the former program.
  • Allows producers to sign up for the county option under the Agricultural Risk Coverage program or the Price Loss Coverage program for 2019-20 crops and annually for the 2021, 2022 and 2023 on a farm-by-farm and crop-by-crop basis.
  • Allows producers to update their program yields.
  • Increases the Marketing Assistance loan rate for soybeans by 24%, to $6.20 per bushel from $5 per bushel.
  • Establishes the Agricultural Trade and Facilitation Program, which will provide $255 million per year to fund FMD, MAP, emerging markets, and TASC. FMD is funded each year at not less than $34.5 million, and MAP is funded each year at not less than $200 million. A Priority Trust Fund will provide $3.5 million per year to programs for which requests are greater than the funds available. The Bill also allows FMD funds to be used in Cuba.
  • Reduces mandatory funding of the Energy Title significantly, but continues baseline funding for the Rural Energy for America Program. The Biobased Market Program will be funded at $3 million per year for 5 years – the only Energy Title program to get increased funding.
  • Expands export opportunities by securing an additional $500 million in permanent funding over the next decade to help farmers find new global markets for their goods.
  • Strengthens investments in agricultural research to support groundbreaking science that makes farmers more efficient, resilient, and sustainable, and invests $185 million in public-private research through the innovative Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, which will generate nearly $4 billion in returns to the agricultural economy.
  • Grows local food economies by securing $500 million in permanent funding, more than doubling past investments for farmers markets, local food systems, and value-added production as a part of the new Local Agriculture Market Program.
  • Helps socially disadvantaged, veteran, and new and beginning farmers by combining initiatives to create $435 million in permanent funding – tripling the current investment – to educate the next generation of farmers and reach more minority farmers as a part of the new Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach Program.
  • Helps military veterans with careers in agriculture by making risk management tools more affordable, improving access to land and capital, and prioritizing training for veterans.
  • Establishes new support for urban agriculture in the farm bill for the first time by creating a new office at the USDA to advocate for urban farms. It also includes provisions to make it easier for urban farmers to start their farms, grow their businesses, and manage their risk.
  • Grows the organic sector by providing $395 million in permanent funding, which almost quadruples investment for organic research. The bill also offers cost-share assistance to help farmers transition into organics and strengthens trade enforcement.
  • Provides support for specialty crop growers by continuing $2.4 billion in permanent investments in research, pest management, and promotion of fruits and vegetables and providing $125 million to conduct five years of critical citrus disease research.
  • Legalizes hemp as an agricultural commodity, expanding the diversity of American agriculture and opening up new market opportunities for farmers.
  • Safeguards livestock and poultry from disease outbreaks through strong investments in detection, response, and recovery, including the creation of a national vaccine bank.
  • Offers $40 million in new scholarship opportunities at land grant universities for students attending historically black 1890’s colleges and universities and authorizes scholarships for tribal students pursuing careers in agriculture.
  • Maintains funding in the conservation title, maintains unique working lands programs, and grows overall funding for conservation by leveraging private dollars.
  • Invests in regional conservation partnerships by tripling mandatory funding, which will leverage nearly $3 billion in new private investment in locally-led conservation over the next decade, while also streamlining requirements for farmers and local partners leading the projects.
  • Improves soil health and water quality by encouraging farmers to plant cover crops, providing incentives in conservation programs, driving climate-smart practices through a new soil health pilot to sequester carbon, and prioritizing the protection of drinking water by dedicating at least 10% of all conservation dollars to these projects.
  • Secures opportunities for outdoor recreation by adding 3 million new acres to the Conservation Reserve Program, bringing it to 27 million acres, including 8.6 million acres for continuous CRP and 2 million acres for grasslands. expanding Voluntary Public Access to allow more recreation on private lands, and designating 20,000 acres of national forest wilderness.
  • Promotes clean energy and efficiency upgrades by including $500 million to help rural small businesses and farmers use renewable energy and create energy installation jobs.
  • Protects against wildfires by expanding bipartisan forest health tools and expediting wildfire prevention treatments across federal, state, and private ownership.
  • Safeguards important environmental protections by rejecting over 40 harmful poison pill riders, including provisions that would have undermined the Endangered Species Act, allowed unaccountable logging on federal lands, and weakened pesticide regulations that protect families, farmworkers, and drinking water.
  • Protects access to food assistance for families in need by avoiding harmful benefits cuts and eligibility changes that would take away food and create obstacles for working families.
  • Increases job training opportunities to help SNAP participants find and keep good-paying jobs the right way, while keeping out partisan changes to work requirements.
  • Expands access to healthy foods by securing $510 million in permanent funding – more than doubling investments for Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentives that encourage SNAP participants to purchase fruits and vegetables. The bill also creates new produce prescription initiatives that make fruits and vegetables more accessible and affordable for families.
  • Establishes a “Farm to Food Bank” initiative to provide healthy, local foods to families in need while reducing food waste.
  • Reduces paperwork for seniors to help them access food assistance.
  • Strengthens oversight of state administration of SNAP to address integrity and technology issues and prevent participants from receiving benefits in multiple states, while safeguarding privacy.
  • Expands high-speed internet in rural communities by providing new grants that will target areas most in need and connect communities with modern internet access. The bill increases funding from $25 million to $350 million per year – nearly 15 times the previous amount.
  • Fights the opioid crisis by opening up billions in financing opportunities for expanded telemedicine and community facility investments to provide critical treatment options for those who suffer from opioid addiction.
  • Improves rural drinking water by targeting infrastructure investments to ensure small town water systems are providing clean and reliable tap water.
  • Invests in biobased manufacturing, which creates and supports millions of rural and urban manufacturing jobs by using American-grown crops and trees to make biofuels and biobased products.    
  • Reestablishes the position of Under Secretary of Rural Development at USDA to be a champion for small towns and rural communities.
  • Encourages innovative uses for wood as a building material by enacting the bipartisan Timber Innovation Act that will create rural jobs and protect forestland from development.
  • Provides new opportunities for tribal communities to participate in research and extension projects and grow their economies through Promise Zone partnerships.
  • Grows rural small businesses through new investments that promote rural entrepreneurship, redevelop Main Streets, and provide essential skills training opportunities.

President Trump has signaled his support for the legislation, telling reporters, "We think the Farm Bill is in very good shape. Our farmers are well taken care of. Again, that'll be quite bipartisan."

Many groups are commenting on the legislation. Here is a sampling of the comments we’ve received. 

“The 2018 Farm Bill is our opportunity to make the American food and agriculture systems work more efficiently. I’m pleased to say we have done just that in this conference report,” said Chairman Roberts. “We started this journey nearly two years ago. Since then, the Senate Agriculture Committee has held dozens of hearings, listened to more than 90 witnesses, and received thousands of public comments. As promised, this farm bill provides much needed certainty and predictability for all producers – of all crops – across all regions across the country. I thank my counterparts in the Senate and House for coming to – and staying at – the table to reach a bipartisan, bicameral agreement for rural America.”

“America’s farmers and ranchers are weathering the fifth year of severe recession, so passing a farm bill this week that strengthens the farm safety net is vitally important,” said House Agriculture Committee Chariman Mike Conaway.

“By working across the aisle, we overcame many differences to deliver a strong, bipartisan farm bill for our farmers, families, and rural communities,” said Stabenow. “The 2018 Farm Bill is a good bill for our farmers and everyone who eats. Working together, we continued to expand the diversity of our agricultural economy, maintained a strong food and farm safety net, created new opportunities in our small towns and rural communities, and made significant investments in land and water conservation.”

“This bill is a strong start to addressing the issues our producers are facing right now, particularly our dairy farmers,” said Rep. Collin Peterson, Ranking Member on the House Agriculture Committee. “The bill’s new provisions will offer more flexible coverage for lower cost when dairy farmers need it most, and provide producers more tools to manage their risk. It also invests $300 million in the prevention and response for animal pests and disease. More broadly, the bill invests in research, outreach to beginning & underserved producers, local and organic food production, bioenergy, and access to new markets. It also addresses broadband, farm stress and mental health issues, and the opioid epidemic in rural areas. It’s the product of strong bipartisan work in both the House and the Senate, and it’s something I’m proud to encourage folks to vote for.”

“This legislation will provide the risk management tools farmers need to navigate difficult economic conditions over the next five years,” said American Soybean Association President Davie Stephens, a soybean farmer from Clinton, Ky. “It provides full funding for the Foreign Market Development program and the Market Access Program – key partnerships under which ASA and USDA’s Foreign Agricultural Service work to expand developing and emerging country markets.”

“This 2018 farm bill is a complete package – one that will serve all Americans,” said American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall. “Farm and ranch families in particular will find a good degree of risk management support they need to help them weather the prolonged downturn in the agricultural economy that many of us are facing. Next year, we are going to face continued challenges across farm and ranch country, and this new farm bill gives us the tools we will need to weather this ongoing storm.”

“Passage of the 2018 Farm Bill cannot come soon enough for American family farmers and ranchers, who need the certainty of the Farm Bill safety net to continue to weather the worst farm economy decline in more than thirty years,” said National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson. “We also need the bill to continue the sustainability gains and emergence of new markets for farmers that have been supported by Farm Bill programs.”

“By providing key “tiny but mighty” farm bill programs with permanent funding, the 2018 Farm Bill will make a critical investment in the future of American agriculture,” said Juli Obudzinski, Interim Policy Director at the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. “No longer will the family farmers who rely on these programs to start or grow their small businesses, or the food and farm organizations who provide direct training and outreach services, have to worry about the fate of these vital resources each farm bill cycle.”

“The bipartisan conference report includes important commodity price protections that will provide producers and community banks with greater business-planning certainty over the next five years. This is essential during an era of low commodity prices, sharply lower net farm income, and foreign trade uncertainties,” said Independent Community Bankers of America President and CEO Rebeca Romero Rainey. “Importantly, the farm bill adopted today by the Senate also maintains a strong crop insurance program, increases USDA guaranteed farm loans to $1.75 million, and provides for the possible increase in guaranteed USDA rural development loans.” 

“The farm bill conference report will ensure a safety net for producers, maintain the strength of the federal crop insurance program and fund important priorities in conservation, rural development, trade promotion and nutrition,” said National Council of Farmer Cooperatives President Chuck Conner. “In addition, the bill contains language strengthening the Buy American provisions of the National School Lunch and Breakfast programs.

Conservation 

"The 2018 farm bill language unveiled by congressional negotiators this week includes several Conservation Reserve Program reforms that the NGFA supported throughout the process, including reducing rental rates to provide a market-based disincentive to enrolling productive cropland,” said National Grain and Feed Association President and CEO Randy Gordon. “Too much productive farmland currently is enrolled in CRP, and reducing rental rates should help refocus the program on truly highly erodible and environmentally sensitive land. This policy change also benefits young and beginning farmers and ranchers who for too long have been forced to compete directly against the federal government to access farmland, a troubling policy when the average age of the American farmer is 58.” 

Forestry

“The 2018 Farm Bill negotiators elected to advance a bill that abandoned Western communities by stripping away all provisions for responsible forest management,” said Ethan Lane, Exectuvie Direction of the Public Lands Council. “The agriculture committees’ decision to abdicate its oversight of our nation’s forest resources speaks volumes about the need for the U.S. Forest Service to be moved out of agriculture and toward the natural resources community where it might have a fighting chance. It is unacceptable for conferees to simply take a pass on forestry and abandon Americans impacted by catastrophic wildfire."

Regulatory issues

“This legislation represented a significant opportunity to correct some serious regulatory issues, and those solutions did not make the final bill despite significant bipartisan support,” said Agricultural Retailers Association President and CEO Daren Coppock. “ARA will not oppose this bill but we had hoped for much more.”

Missed opportunities include:

Language to fix the National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System regulatory overlap was dropped;

Failure to include a provision that defined a retailer;

Clarifications to streamline the Endangered Species Act;

Failure to reauthorize the Pesticide Regisration and improvement Act.

Source: Senate Agriculture Committee, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, AFBF, Agricultural Retailers Association, American Soybean Association, NFU, National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, NGFA, NCFC 

TAGS: Farm Policy
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