Senate Agriculture Committee leaders find common ground in bipartisan Farm Bill
WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., released the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 on June 8.
The bipartisan farm bill makes mostly modest adjustments to existing programs and, unlike the House version of the bill, doesn't pick a fight over food stamps.
The Senate bill is budget-neutral and aims to renew subsidy, conservation, nutrition, rural development and commodity programs set to expire on Sept. 30.
“When Ranking Member Stabenow and I started this journey in Manhattan, Kansas, last year, we made a commitment to make tough choices and produce a good, bipartisan Farm Bill,” Roberts said in a news release. "I’m pleased that today marks a big step in the process to get a Farm Bill reauthorized on time.”
“Whether it’s low prices, over burdensome regulations, or unpredictable trade markets, it’s no secret that farmers and ranchers are struggling," Roberts continued. "That’s why we need a Farm Bill that works for all producers across all regions. Simply put, our producers need predictability — and that’s just what our bill provides.”
The committee will meet vote on the legislation on June 13.
Wisconsin dairy support
U.S. Senator Tammy Baldwin said the Senate’s 2018 Farm Bill includes significant improvements to dairy risk management tools for Wisconsin dairy farmers as they face difficult market conditions.
“Wisconsin’s dairy farmers are a key driver of our state’s economy but they are facing very challenging times. The Senate Farm Bill includes important reforms that will directly benefit Wisconsin dairy farmers and our rural communities,” said Baldwin, a member of the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on Agriculture. “I worked to make sure the Senate Farm Bill includes new and improved dairy risk coverage tools to provide much-needed relief for our dairy farmers and do right by them.”
The bill includes new-and-improved support for dairy farmers struggling through tough economic times for too long, Stabenow added. “Senator Baldwin’s tireless advocacy and leadership was crucial to securing this critical new investment for dairy.”
In the face of challenging dairy market conditions in Wisconsin and across the country, Baldwin sent a letter on June 6 to Roberts and Stabenow urging them to protect the economic security of the nation’s dairy farmers and update and expand the dairy safety net in the 2018 Farm Bill to provide better risk management tools for family farmers.
Since 2014, prices have dropped by over a third and dairy farmers have faced these difficult market conditions without a reliable safety net. Baldwin’s changes would fix problems with the old Dairy Margin Protection Program and provide a pathway to new, customizable insurance tools in the future.
Specifically, Baldwin’s reforms would:
- Respond to the costs farmers face — Updates choices for risk coverage that better reflect the costs farmers face to produce their milk.
- Increase Affordability — Lowers the costs for coverage, even on higher quality coverage. Small and medium farmers will get better coverage for a lower cost.
- Target Those Most in Need — Waives administrative fees for beginning, veteran, and underserved farmers.
- Builds on Farmer-Friendly Improvements — Ensures the dairy safety net is responsive to drops in prices and increases in feed costs, by triggering payments monthly. Allows farmers to make changes annually, rather than locking them in to a longer commitment.
- Allows for New Opportunities for Insurance — Continues important reforms made in the budget bill to allow for the development of new dairy insurance tools in the future, including the creation of customizable dairy risk management tools.
"From revitalizing small towns, to promoting good stewardship of our land and water, to expanding local food economies, this Farm Bill is a major bipartisan victory," said Stabenow.
The hemp industry was excited to see Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell's Hemp Farming Act of 2018, in its entirety, included in the Farm Bill. That means should the Farm Bill be signed into law as currently drafted, hemp would be permanently removed from the purview of the Controlled Substances Act, according to U.S. Hemp Roundtable.
However, there are still many steps left in the process, the group cautions.
The Wisconsin Farm Bureau Federation praised Baldwin and Senator Ron Johnson who signed onto legislation to remove industrial hemp from the federal Controlled Substances Act. If industrial hemp is removed from the act, it will allow farmers to maximize their ability to grow and process the versatile plant.
“Wisconsin has a long history with industrial hemp and it’s heartening to see our congressional delegation publicly support its reintroduction as a crop,” said Wisconsin Farm Bureau President Jim Holte. “With so much interest in Wisconsin’s hemp pilot program, we are poised to once again became a national leader in hemp production once these federal barriers are removed.”
McConnell's Hemp Farming Act would also allow states to set up their own system to best regulate hemp, allow researchers to apply for USDA grants to study hemp and its application and make the crop eligible for federal crop insurance.
“We need McConnell’s bill to remove crippling obstacles hemp growers and processors face in lending, financial transactions, crop insurance coverage and limitless possibilities for research," said Wisconsin Hemp Alliance’s General Counsel Larry Konopacki. "The WHA will be working very closely with Farm Bureau and our congressional delegation to make sure our members and the state’s farmers can maximize opportunities and profitability in hemp’s existing and emerging markets.”
The National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC) applauded the draft of the bill, celebrating the inclusion of a number of key provisions from its platform, the Young Farmer Agenda.
“Despite a challenging budget and political climate, we’re thrilled to see program investments that will support the next generation and the inclusion of policy changes that will make programs better-suited for all farmers," said Lindsey Lusher Shute, NYFC’s co-founder and Executive Director. "We are also pleased to see additional funding for programs targeting socially disadvantaged farmers, conservation partnerships, and concrete steps to make farmers more resilient in the face of climate change.
Like every bipartisan compromise, NYFC admits the draft bill isn’t perfect., but it is a step in the right direction.
"We thank Senators Roberts and Stabenow for putting ideology and partisanship aside, and working to address the urgent needs of America's farmers and the communities they feed," Shute added. "In stark contrast to the House process, this is how a farm bill should be done.”
The Organic Farmers Association applauded the Senate Agriculture Committee for releasing a bipartisan bill that supports organic farmers' needs and priorities for future growth.
Recognizing consumers' demand for more local organic food and including farm bill provisions that will equip American farmers with what they need to meet that demand through increased domestic production, the group was pleased to "see some wins for organic farmers in the Senate Farm Bill," Dave Colson, President of Organic Farmers Association and owner of certified organic New Leaf Farm in Maine said in a news release.
"American family organic farmers encourage Congress to work toward a bipartisan farm bill that supports the growth of healthy food and families," Colson added.
Energy Title programs
While The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 reauthorizes the Energy Title programs, the Agriculture Energy Coalition felt the bill provides insufficient funding to ensure success of the programs.
Lloyd Ritter, director of the Agriculture Energy Coalition, stated, “The energy title has been a vital part of the Farm Bill since 2002, helping farms, ranches and rural businesses contribute to America’s energy renaissance. With a federal commitment of less than a tenth of one percent of total farm bill spending, the programs could continue to help rural communities create new jobs, economic opportunities, and infrastructure. The programs have leveraged more than $5 billion in private investment since 2009.
The Coalition urged a "significant increase in mandatory funding and additional progress to improve and make programs more equitable."
The Associated Press contributed to this article.