Farm Progress Team
The U.S. House narrowly approved its version of the next farm bill, which does retain an expanded work requirement for recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. The measure now awaits the vote on the Senate version, and given the current version of that farm bill the two chambers will likely end up in conference to hammer out a final version. When the House vote was announced a range of ag industry groups issued their statements in response.
From these responses you can see other parts of the farm bill that were approved in the June 21 vote. Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, issued a statement on the vote noting that the measure "was about keeping faith with the men and women of rural America and about the enduring promise of the dignity of a day's work. It was about providing certainty to farmers and ranchers who have been struggling under the weight of a five-year recession and about providing our neighbors in need with more than just a hand out, but a hand up."
Conaway noted that he looks forward to working with the Senate and president to "deliver a farm bill on time to the American people."
In its statement after the vote, Zippy Duvall, president, American Farm Bureau Federation, noted that passage of the House bill "is a big win for America's farmers and ranchers. Our grassroots Farm Bureau members clearly made their voices heard. By approving the 2018 Farm Bill…members of the House recognized the serious economic challenges facing farmers and ranchers across the country."
Duvall noted that the new bill makes "much-needed improvements in risk management and crop insurance programs at a time when farm income levels have slumped to decade lows." He credits progress on the effort to House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., for making the measure a congressional priority.
As for the Senate version, Duvall commented that his organization will work with Senate Ag Committee Leaders Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., as they move forward. "The Senate bill also addresses the challenges our farmers and ranchers are facing today. We will also continue to focus our attention on other areas of interest to farmers, such as finding a solution to the very serious ag labor shortage, increasing market opportunities through trade and cutting the burdens of regulations that have piled up during previous administrations."
Livestock groups react
On the livestock side, the National Pork Producers Council issued a statement noting that a key part of the new farm bill legislation is language establishing and funding a Foot-and-Mouth Disease vaccine bank. The organization points out that FMD is an infectious viral disease that affects cloven hoved animals, including cattle, pigs and seep; it is not a food safety or human health threat. As the organization added, the disease hasn't been reported in the United States since 1929, but is endemic in many parts of the world.
Added Jim Heimerl, NPPC president and a Johnstown, Ohio, pork producer: "Pork producers are pleased that the House approved its 2018 Farm Bill. But we need adequate funding in it to protect the livestock industry and the American economy."
NPPC asked for funding each year of the next farm bill of $250 million - $150 million for the vaccine bank, $70 million for state block grants for disease prevention and $30 million for the network of laboratories to provide disease diagnostic support. The House version of the five-year bill includes those amounts only for the first year; for each of the other years it has $30 million for state block grants, and $20 million at the Agriculture Secretary's discretion for the grants, labs and the vaccine bank.
Heimerl said that the U.S. is "not prepared for an FMD outbreak, so we really need to have the full five-year mandatory funding. We hope the Senate heeds our plea. We can't afford the financial devastation this disease would wreak on farmers and the U.S. economy."
The House version also includes funding for the Market Access Program and the Foreign Market Development Program, which support exports of U.S. goods. Those programs will be consolidated as the International Market Development Program. There's also money in the program to deal with feral swine eradication, NPPC reported.
On the beef side of the industry, the National Cattlemen's Beef Association issued a short statement on their support of the House measure. The statement from Keven Kester, president, noted that the "vote means that American cattlemen and women are one step closer to having the certainty they need to continue running their operations and contributing to rural economies. We are glad the House-passed bill addresses a number of priorities for producers including authorization and funding for a national vaccine bank that prioritizes [FMD] prevention."
Kester added that the group also supports the move to fund foreign market development activities.
The dairy industry noted that the new bill offers support by raising the maximum covered margin in the dairy Margin Protection Program to $9 per hundredweight and offers increased flexibility in the amount of milk that can be ensured, according to a statement from the National Milk Producers Federation. The organization said the changes will improve the program for dairy operations of all sizes.
Jim Mulhern, CEO, NMPF, noted that "while there are a few issues that will need to be addressed when the House reconciles its version of the Farm Bill with the one the Senate is considering, we are pleased that the process continues to move forward with this vote."
He added that the bill's dairy provisions were the product of bipartisan support.
Other areas that NMPF found positive in the House version included support in the conservation title to boost access to technical and financial assistance to carry out a range of practices, support for trade promotion programs; and provisions intended to increase fluid milk consumption - including a provision to expand the varieties of milk offered in schools.
Allied industry response
The Association of Equipment Manufacturers weighed in with a statement from Dennis Slater, president, who commented that "sound agricultural policy promotes a strong farm economy and a strong U.S. manufacturing sector. This includes 320,000 agricultural equipment manufacturing jobs across America. That's why we are glad to see the House of Representatives pass a farm bill that recognizes the importance of crop insurance to our overall economy."
The measure also includes the "Precision Agriculture Connectivity Act of 2018" which Slater said will "help prepare our farms and ranches for the 21st Century." The measure would require the Federal Communications Commission to establish at task force aimed at meeting connectivity and technology needs for precision agriculture. The task force would have to identify and measure current gaps in broadband internet access; assemble a guide of all federal programs and resources working to expand broadband access; and develop policy recommendations to promote the rapid, expanded deployment of internet access service in unserved cropland and ranchland.
The American Bankers Association issued a statement from Rob Nichols, president and CEO who noted that this farm bill is important for the farm's economic well-being. "This farm bill will help ensure those banks will be able to continue to provide a broad array of financial services to the agricultural sector. We are particularly pleased that members recognized the vital role of programs like crop insurance and USDA loan guarantees," he said.
The American Farmland Trust issued a lengthy statement noting that the farm bill provides "essential funding for the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, along with other important conservation programs and beginning farmer programs."
The group has been pointing out the loss of farmland at the rate of 175 acres per hour, according to John Piotti, president and CEO of the organization. "The farm bill gives us a chance to stem the loss. Restoring funding to ACEP at $500 million annually - as it was in 2017 - is an essential first step. The House version of the bill does that and AFT urges that this level of funding be established in the final bill."
The bill also includes improvements to the Regional Conservation Partnership Program. And there are two new initiatives - a Commission on Farm Transition and a Farmland Tenure, Transition and Entry Data Initiative. The group sees those programs offering valuable insight to guide future policies and attract and support next generation farmers.
Not everyone is happy
Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., issued a statement noting that the farm bill was a highly partisan measure that "eliminates funding for rural development and conservation programs, takes free school lunches from 265,000 children and throws 1 million households off of food assistance. Unlike every previous farm bill in my life time, this one was done entirely by one party in a backroom with no partnership between Republicans and Democrats."
She did point out the Senate version is more bipartisan and that she is hopeful that "once we get this bill to conference, both sides of the aisle will come together and work to develop a farm bill that strips out these highly partisan provisions."