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The 2018 farm bill is the first since 1990 that was enacted within the year for which programs were authorized.

Ron Smith 1, Senior Content Director

December 22, 2018

5 Min Read
U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, center, delivers remarks with President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence during the signing ceremony for the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018.Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images

Agriculture may not have gotten all it wanted out of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, signed into law by President Trump Dec. 20, but farmers say it is comforting to know they have a safety net going into the 2019 planting season.

“Did we get all we wanted?” asks Tillar, Ark., cotton, corn and soybean farmer Steve Stevens. “No, but we got more than we expected. Under the circumstances, with budgets, we got a good bill.”

He says cotton may be the biggest winner in the new law, and the support comes at a good time for the industry.

“Getting cotton back into the farm bill was a big win,” he says. “We think cotton is coming back.” Cotton’s sustainability message, he says, puts cotton in a good position versus polyester and rayon. The microfiber issue with polyester and deforestation with rayon make cotton‘s sustainability a strong marketing advantage. “Having a program in the farm law to support us will help,” he says.

Stevens says passing a new farm law, which was not certain until the waning days of Congress, “is much better than an extension. This offers more certainty for farmers going into planting season.”

The surety of a safety net, especially with a program that helps cotton, also supports the cotton industry infrastructure, he says — cotton harvesters, cotton gins and the ag suppliers.”

Stevens says he was pleased, but surprised, at the bi-partisan, and overwhelming support for the bill, which passed 87-13 in the Senate and 369-47 in the House.

A lot to study

Rusty Grills, who farms soybeans and corn with his father, Jack, and Brothers Hunter and Cody in Dyersberg, Tenn., says he still has a lot to study on the new law.

“I’m not certain what all came out of the compromise,” he says. “But it is good to get it passed by this Congress.”

Having a safety net provides a bit more certainty, Grills adds. And it’s a good policy for more than just American farmers.

“A lot of things the world can do without,” he explains. “But food and fiber are not part of those. And food and fiber come directly from farmers. Without farmers, especially American farmers, world economies would spiral down. America’s farmers do the best job in the world to provide food and fiber to our country and to the rest of the world.”

He also notes that the ability to improve yields will be an advantage. “We have been able to increase yields averages over the past few years,” he says.

He adds that farm bill passage may be a boon to lenders.

“Farm Credit Mid-America is already going over farm books with a fine-tooth comb, going through operations, showing places where farmers can and need to trim costs and offering options to make finances flow much better.

Make loans more certain

“If loan officers are willing to do that with farmers, they can make loans more certain.”

That certainty is a necessity in today’s farm economy, Grills says.

“With the money it takes to put crops in year to year, we need the security.” He says soybean prices have declined in the last few years but, looking back, the market has been following a long trend. “A soybean market at $8 to $8.50 has been a running trend over a number of years, even though we had some $13 and $14 beans few years ago.

“Even with the jump, fertilizer and other crop protection materials all shot up.”

Grills says he would like to see some tweaks in future legislation, including a market-oriented crop insurance program that includes many more commodities. “U.S. agriculture is so diverse in what we raise it would be helpful to have more options in a free market insurance program.”

NCC Chairman Ron Craft

National Cotton Council Chairman Ron Craft, a ginner from Plains, Texas, says the new farm law, forged within existing budget resources, will provide U.S. farmers with stability to help them manage risks from weather as well as fluctuations in commodity prices and other global marketplace situations, including the retaliatory trade tariffs on U.S. agricultural products.

“The commitment to farmers by Congress, especially the Cotton Belt members who supported the farm bill, and the administration to get this farm law into place this year will enable our nation’s farmers to continue producing safe, abundant, and affordable food and fiber,” Craft stated.

Craft says the new law is especially important for the U.S. cotton industry as “many producers are still dealing with natural disasters that occurred this growing season while others will undoubtedly face other harmful weather events ahead.”

A release from the Cotton Council points to many of the U.S. cotton industry’s policy priorities, including:

  • Continuation of the Seed Cotton ARC/PLC program,

  • Full access to the marketing loan program,

  • Full funding for textile competitiveness programs,

  • Effective crop insurance products,

  • No reduction in arbitrary payment limits, and

  • Addressing overly restrictive family farm eligibility requirements.

NCC sources say the adjustment to the family definition for farm programs will help resolve the unintended and punitive restrictions that resulted from the “actively engaged” changes made by the 2014 farm law and ensure that all family farms are treated equitably.

Yield update

In addition, the bill includes a yield update opportunity for all producers that will better align program yields with current production levels. Report language attached to the new farm law encourages USDA to work with the cotton industry to make administrative changes in the cotton warehouse and shipping provisions to help ensure the timely flow of cotton to the marketplace.

Stevens says a lot of farm organizations, the National cotton council and many others, stepped up to make a case for a strong safety net and the need for a farm  law passed this year.

“They all did a good job,” he says.

About the Author(s)

Ron Smith 1

Senior Content Director, Farm Press/Farm Progress

Ron Smith has spent more than 40 years covering Sunbelt agriculture. Ron began his career in agricultural journalism as an Experiment Station and Extension editor at Clemson University, where he earned a Masters Degree in English in 1975. He served as associate editor for Southeast Farm Press from 1978 through 1989. In 1990, Smith helped launch Southern Turf Management Magazine and served as editor. He also helped launch two other regional Turf and Landscape publications and launched and edited Florida Grove and Vegetable Management for the Farm Press Group. Within two years of launch, the turf magazines were well-respected, award-winning publications. Ron has received numerous awards for writing and photography in both agriculture and landscape journalism. He is past president of The Turf and Ornamental Communicators Association and was chosen as the first media representative to the University of Georgia College of Agriculture Advisory Board. He was named Communicator of the Year for the Metropolitan Atlanta Agricultural Communicators Association. More recently, he was awarded the Norman Borlaug Lifetime Achievement Award by the Texas Plant Protection Association. Smith also worked in public relations, specializing in media relations for agricultural companies. Ron lives with his wife Pat in Johnson City, Tenn. They have two grown children, Stacey and Nick, and three grandsons, Aaron, Hunter and Walker.

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