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WASHINGTON D.C. - For months farm groups across the state and country listed their priorities for the 2018 Farm Bill. With House Agriculture Committee Chairman K. Michael Conaway's release of the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 (H.R. 2) on April 12, the a draft of the much anticipated bill waits for Agriculture Committees and members of Congress from both sides to pass the bill before the September deadline. 

"America's farmers and ranchers are feeding more people with fewer resources than ever before and are making conscious decisions to keep agriculture sustainable for generations to come," the Farm Bill website states. "None of this is by accident. Our nation's food security depends on strong agricultural policy that provides stability for America's farmers and ranchers."

Related: Chairman Conaway introduces Agriculture and Nutrition Act

Finally farmers can see what the new farm bill will entail. The bill website lists the following Farm Bill top 10 highlights, reflecting both Republican and Democrat priorities.  

Farm Policy

The bill "works to address the 5-year, 52-percent decline in the farm economy by providing certainty that an extension of current policy cannot provide." The Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC) options are strengthened and reauthorized through 2023. 

The bill would give producers an opportunity to make a new election between ARC and PLC with several improvements.

Nutrition

More than 35 improvements were made to the nation's "flagship nutrition program," the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). 

"Most notably, existing work requirements are strengthened, streamlined and paired with a variety of options to increase opportunities for SNAP recipients, including participating in a fully-funded, guaranteed Employment & Training (E&T) slot. Individuals may choose not to participate, but they will no longer be eligible for SNAP."

Trade

Given the latest trade issues with Canada, Mexico and most recently China, the farm bill "stands by our nation’s farmers and ranchers, providing a strengthened safety net and authorizing and restoring funding for vital tools for trade promotion and market development."

Long-standing legal authority for the secretary to provide assistance to farmers and ranchers affected by unfair foreign trade practices has also been maintained in the 2018 Farm Bill. 

Conservation

The best features of the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) were folded into the "nation's flagship incentive based program for voluntary conservation — the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). This supports emerging conservation practices such as the use of cover crops. 

Crop Insurance

Farmers, bankers, and rural business owners across the country stressed the importance of crop insurance and the 2018 bill protects crop insurance. "Some improvements are made but, overall, the farm bill doesn’t fix what isn’t broken."

Regulatory Reform

Burdensome regulations have long been the complaint of farmers and ranchers. The farm bill streamlines and reduces regulatory burdens and cuts the red-tape across the conservation programs. Under the bill, the Data Universal Numbering System (DUNS) and System for Award Management (SAM) registration requirements for producers would be eliminated. 

Rural Development

Addressing rural broadband issues and the opioid crisis, the bill "authorizes substantial annual appropriations for rural broadband and requires USDA to establish forward-looking broadband standards." The farm bill also provides the secretary with the authority to prioritize project that help communities meet the challenges of the opioid crisis. 

Animal Health

A new National Animal Disease Preparedness and Response Program has been established through the 2018 Farm Bill. Designed to protect the health of the nation's livestock sector, the program is modeled after the Plant Pest and Disease Management and Disaster Prevention Program that has been successful and strengthened the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) ability to protect U.S. agriculture and natural resources from foreign plant pest threats. 

Specialty and Organic Crops

The new International Market Development Program in the farm bill restores funding for Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops (TASC). Expanding and improving crop insurance policies for specialty crops is also addressed, along with improvements to the Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) and the Specialty Crop Block Grant program, while maintaining funding.

Beginning Farmers and Ranchers

Several provisions to help beginning farmers and ranchers establish themselves in agriculture are provided in the bill. The bill enhances access to crop insurance and establishes a scholarship program designed to assist students interested in agricultural careers. 

Related: House farm bill draft maintains key program for young farmers

Many challenges faced by young farmers are linked to retiring producers, so the 2018 Farm Bill "establishes the “Commission on Farm Transitions – Needs for 2050” to examine additional policy changes needed to ensure that the U.S. maintains the safest, most abundant and most affordable food and fiber supply in the world."

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