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Political foreplay or farm bill grist?

sborisov/iStock/Thinkstock U.S. Capitol building shown with cherry blossoms in bloom.
PRETTY, BUT...: Farm bill policy-making is like sausage-making: It isn’t pretty, and everybody wants to add new ingredients.
SNAP stalled out the farm bill, but finding funding is still the bottom line.

Legislation supporting agriculture and conservation is easy to “put wheels on,” but often lacks horsepower, traction and fuel. That may currently be the case with the 2018 Farm Bill. And as Congress faces major federal revenue shortfalls, “show me the money” will still be the real bottom line.

Writing of the 2018 Farm Bill stalled out in mid-March due to rancor expressed by 19 House Ag Committee Democrats over proposed reinstatement of work requirements for participation in the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program and transparency issues. Referring to Ag Committee Chairman Mike Conaway’s withholding of the proposal’s legislative language, Rep. David Scott, D-Ga., and Rep. Jim Costa, D-Calif., noted they couldn’t “agree to any deal without ample time to review proposed policies” and scoring by the Congressional Budget Office.

Still more policy proposals
One of the latest pieces of bipartisan Senate action is the Give our Resources the Opportunity to Work Act (S.B. 2557). The GROW Act, introduced by Sens. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, and Bob Casey Jr., D-Penn, would maintain funding and acreage levels for the 2018 Farm Bill’s three largest conservation programs: The Conservation Stewardship Program, Environmental Quality Incentives Program and Conservation Reserve Program.

A similar bill, Strengthening Our Investment in Land Stewardship Act of 2018 (H.R. 5188), was also introduced in the House by Rep. Tim Walz, D-Minn. The bills would incentivize cover crops under CSP, increase set-aside funds for conservation buffers within continuous CRP, and maintain EQIP water quality emphasis. Provisions that actually make it into the farm bill are anyone’s guess at this point.

Plus, there is a small mountain of other farm bill reform proposals on regenerative agriculture, sustainable agriculture, crop insurance and dairy policy already proposed. Even the STRESS Act is back, a bill reauthorizing the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance Network. First authorized in the 2008 Farm Bill to provide farmers with stress assistance programs, it was never funded.

Lots of hoops to clear: Bills must make it out of committee before full House or Senate consideration. Then there are FY 2019 appropriations issues: Where will those necessary dollars come from?

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