Farm Bill heading to President Trump after Senate, House approve legislation

Carol Spaeth-Bauer
Wisconsin State Farmer
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., joined from left by Sen. John Barrasso, R-Wyo., and Sen. John Thune, R-S.D., speak following their weekly strategy session, at the Capitol in Washington, Tuesday, Dec. 11, 2018. Under pressure from President Donald Trump and many of his Republican colleagues, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said Tuesday that he will bring legislation to the floor to overhaul the nation's sentencing laws.


It's been a week of fast action on the 2018 Farm Bill as the Senate overwhelmingly approved the bill 87-13, on Tuesday, less than a day after the conference report was released. The House followed suit on Wednesday, easily passing the legislative package 369-47, sending the bill to President Donald Trump, who is expected to sign it. 

The sweeping agriculture bill will fund key farm safety net programs for the next five years without making significant changes to the food stamp program.The legislation comes with an estimated price tag of $867 billion over a decade. 

The House and Senate reached an agreement on the bill, which for months had been caught up in tense negotiations over the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps.

Many farmers purchase crop insurance to protect against catastrophic losses such as a drought. There are currently 16 crop insurance providers in the U.S. From 2000 to 2015, the companies averaged gains of $884 million per year. In March, USDA projected underwriting gains of $2.6 billion for 2016.

The legislation sets federal agricultural and food policy for five years and provides more than $400 billion in farm subsidies, conservation programs and food aid for the poor. It reauthorizes crop insurance and conservation programs and funds trade programs, bioenergy production and organic farming research. It also reduces the cost for struggling dairy producers to sign up for support programs.

Additionally the bill legalizes the cultivation of industrial hemp, a form of cannabis with lower THC levels than marijuana, an initiative championed by Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Analysts told CNBC that hemp could grow into a $20 billion industry by 2022.

FILE - In a Thursday, July 5, 2018 file photo, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, left, inspects a piece of hemp taken from a bale of hemp at a processing plant in Louisville, Ky. McConnell has guaranteed that his proposal to make hemp a legal agricultural commodity, removing it from the federal list of controlled substances, will be part of the final farm bill.

The House and Senate clashed over portions of the bill's forestry and conservation sections, however the most contentious pieces of the House version, such as relaxing restrictions on pesticide use, didn't make it into the final text.

The bill also maintains current limits on farm subsidies, but includes a House provision to expand the definition of family to include first cousins, nieces and nephews, making them eligible for payments under the program.

The new farm bill also prevents maple syrup and honey producers from being required to list their pure products as containing added sugars on their nutrition labels — a plan proposed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration months ago that producers said was misleading.

The FDA's goal was to update the Nutrition Facts label on products to educate consumers about the amount of added sugars in foods based on government dietary guidelines. However, no sugar is added to pure maple syrup or honey.

"This is what happens when the Congress works in a bipartisan, bicameral fashion," said Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, (R-Kan)., ahead of the vote. "It's a good bill that accomplishes what we set out to do: provide certainty and predictability for farmers and families in rural communities."

House and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-Texas) said he will be "one happy camper" when "this is all said and done."

"Rural America will be better off across the board when we get this thing done," Conaway said in a video. "You know, five years of depressed commodity prices — a 50 percent decrease in net income — savings are gone, capital is gone, and America needs the certainty — rural America especially."

In a press release, Conaway said, "America’s farmers and ranchers are weathering the fifth year of severe recession, so passing a farm bill this week that strengthens the farm safety net is vitally important. I am grateful to the President, Secretary Perdue and my leadership for standing fast for the hard-working farm and ranch families that clothe and feed us.”

After dozens of hearings, listening to more than 90 witnesses and pouring over thousands of public comments in the past couple of year, the Senate Agriculture Committee produced a farm bill that provides much needed certainty and predictability for all producers across the country, Roberts continued.

U.S. Senator Debbie Stabenow talks to her supporters in Detroit on Tuesday, Nov. 6, 2018.

“The 2018 Farm Bill is a good bill for our farmers and everyone who eats," said Sen. Debbie Stabenow, (D-Mich.) "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.”

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue hailed the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, although he felt there were missed opportunities in a couple of areas. 

“The passage of the 2019 Farm Bill is good news because it provides a strong safety net for farmers and ranchers, who need the dependability and certainty this legislation affords. This Farm Bill will help producers make decisions about the future, while also investing in important agricultural research and supporting trade programs to bolster exports," Perdue said in a press release on Wednesday. "While I feel there were missed opportunities in forest management and in improving work requirements for certain SNAP recipients, this bill does include several helpful provisions and we will continue to build upon these through our authorities.  I commend Congress for bringing the Farm Bill across the finish line and am encouraging President Trump to sign it.”

Ag groups react 

Ag groups came out on both sides regarding the Farm Bill after Senate approval. 

Jeff Lyon, General Manager of FarmFirst Dairy Cooperative said, “The bipartisan support in the Senate demonstrates the Senate’s recognition of the importance of agriculture and the challenges being faced by our farmers. We hope the House will act as quickly and in a bipartisan fashion as well to pass the bill.”

“The 2018 Farm Bill continues to provide funding for trade promotion, which has proven to be effective in establishing export markets,” said Lyon. “Land and water conservation programs are also a mainstay in the 2018 Farm Bill, supporting dairy farmers and their efforts in maintaining healthy and safe natural resources so they can continue to support the future of their farms.”

On Monday, FarmFirst Dairy Cooperative President John Rettler said the timely release of the conference report shows that leadership in Washington D.C. heard concerns of people — farmers and citizens that utilize government assistance to put food on their tables. 

“Specifically, for dairy, valuable reforms were made to the dairy title, making the risk management program much more useful to dairy farmers and their management plans,” said Rettler in a press release. 

Previously known as the Margin Protection Program (MPP), the new risk management program is known as the Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) and provides greater flexibility in coverage options, according to FarmFirst.

“Dairy farmers are smart about managing their costs and increasing their bottom line, but risk management options are not a one-size-fits-all. This new program addressed changes in the feed-cost formula and allows greater flexibility, allowing farmers of various sizes to participate in Tier 1 premium rates, as well as allowing simultaneous participation in this new program and the Livestock Gross Margin (LGM) insurance program,” added Rettler.

Zippy Duvall

The American Farm Bureau Federation’s (AFBF) endorsed final approval of the 2018 farm bill on the strength of its comprehensive provisions that support production agriculture, including measures related to risk management, crop insurance and programs that facilitate market development.

“This 2018 farm bill is a complete package — one that will serve all Americans,” said AFBF President Zippy Duvall. “Farm and ranch families in particular will find a good degree of risk management support they need to help them weather the prolonged downturn in the agricultural economy that many of us are facing. Next year, we are going to face continued challenges across farm and ranch country, and this new farm bill gives us the tools we will need to weather this ongoing storm.”

National Farmers Union (NFU) President Roger Johnson said passage of the 2018 Farm Bill cannot come soon enough for farmers and ranchers who need the certainty of the bill to weather "the worst farm economy decline in more than 30 years." 

"We also need the bill to continue the sustainability gains and emergence of new markets for farmers that have been supported by Farm Bill programs, " said Johnson. "Senate and House agriculture leaders and their staff have worked tirelessly to resolve differences in the chambers’ respective farm bills, and they’ve produced a bill that represents a critical step toward providing the relief and certainty farmers need amidst struggling markets due to oversupply and trade volatility," Johnson added. 

Roger Johnson

However, the National Family Farm Coalition (NFFC) does not support the overall status quo direction of the bill, which the group says doesn't go far enough to improve the lives and livelihoods of family farmers and rural communities. 

In a press release, Jim Goodman, NFFC president and a Wisconsin dairy farmer, said, “The final farm bill includes several measures that are critically important to NFFC member farmers, such as expanded credit and minority farmer rights, and small steps to address dairy oversupply through a milk donation program. But as in past farm bills, there is no long-term plan to address oversupply and the low farm prices that are driving farmers out of business every day.

"If Congress were serious about writing a farm bill that worked for farmers and the American public, they would address production management, reinstate farmer-owned grain reserves and acreage set-asides — as well as expanded and accessible SNAP program to provide healthy, locally-sourced food to all those in need,” Goodman added.

U.S. Rep. Ron Kind voiced similar sentiments.

“This Farm Bill maintains a status quo that will drive more family farmers out of business. It fails to rein in wasteful subsidies and crop insurance programs that lead to overproduction by big Agribusiness, and sends taxpayer dollars to billionaires on Wall Street, and in Chicago and San Francisco," Kind said in a press release. "It cuts $800 million from vital conservation programs, and does nothing to address the damage caused by the President’s trade war.

I can’t support a bill that maintains the failed status quo. As long as family farmers are fighting for their lives in Wisconsin, I will continue to fight for them in this Farm Bill.”

The Associated Press, Lisa Rathke and Juliet Linderman contributed to this article.