After months of negotiations, the farm bill conferees signed off on the 802-page farm bill on Monday night. Overall, the bill is predominantly an extension of the status quo from the 2014 farm bill. However, particular changes were made to offer additional support to some agricultural sectors.
As with any conference, it was about compromising to find middle ground. After a robust debate in conference on virtually every title, the principles were able to reach agreement on a total package that likely will pass in each chamber within the next week. The controversial work requirements for those who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits were stripped from the final bill. Compromises were also reached on conservation, trade, dairy and animal disease assistance.
“By working across the aisle, we overcame many differences to deliver a strong, bipartisan farm bill for our farmers, families and rural communities,” Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Debbie Stabenow (D., Mich.) said. “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.”
Senate Agriculture Committee chairman Pat Roberts (R., Kan.) said the journey started nearly two years ago. “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,” he said.
In a sign of support from the Administration, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue released a statement late Monday welcoming the report and said he hoped Congress could approve the legislation expeditiously.
“While we would have liked to see more progress on work requirements for SNAP recipients and forest management reforms, the conference agreement does include several helpful provisions, and we will continue to build upon these through our authorities. As farmers prepare to make decisions about next season, I commend the leadership of the conference committee in producing a bill that can be passed before the year’s end. If Congress passes this legislation, I will encourage the President to sign it,” Perdue said.
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.
The dairy provisions offer higher coverage levels in a renamed Margin Protection Program (MPP) that address deficiencies in the current program’s feed-cost formula. It offers greater flexibility to allow producers of all sizes to access Tier 1 premium rates. It also eliminates the prohibition previously contained in the last farm bill restricting dairy producers from participating in both MPP and the Livestock Gross Margin insurance program.
On Title 1, the commodity title, the bill allows for an annual decision on the Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) or Price Loss Coverage (PLC) after 2021 on an annual basis. The 2014 farm bill required a one-time decision for the entire five years of the farm bill.
Marketing loan rates were updated. For the 2019 through 2023 crop years, the loan rate for a marketing assistance loan under Section 1201 for a loan commodity will be $3.38/bu. for wheat, $2.20/bu. for corn, $2.20/bu. for grain sorghum, $2.50/bu. for barley and $2.00/bu. for oats.
The number-one request of producers to “do no harm to crop insurance” was accomplished. The bill expands coverage to include new crops such as fruits, vegetables, hops and barley.
Overall, the conference report retains the Senate structure and approach to working lands conservation programs – retaining both the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) as stand-alone programs. The Conservation Reserve Program acreage cap struck a balance between the House and Senate versions, landing at 27 million acres and allowing for the higher number of acres by lowering the rental rates for those acres.
The final bill safeguards livestock and poultry from disease outbreaks through strong investments in detection, response and recovery, including the creation of a national vaccine bank. Animal disease preparedness will receive $300 million in mandatory funding, and a permanent baseline will be established going forward. It has allocated $150 million in the farm bill.
The King Amendment -- Protect the Interstate Commerce Act -- did not make it in the final version. The amendment’s goal was to uphold the U.S. Constitution's Commerce Clause and would have benefited egg farmers selling eggs into California and other pending states.
The bill legalizes hemp as an agricultural commodity, expanding the diversity of American agriculture and opening up new market opportunities for farmers.
It also 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 & Agriculture Research, which will generate nearly $4 billion in returns to the agricultural economy.