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WASHINGTON D.C. – After much discussion and anticipation regarding the 2018 Farm Bill, House Agriculture Committee Chairman K. Michael Conaway (TX-11) introduced a draft of the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 (H.R. 2) on April 12. The bill provides critical legislation to address the economic challenges facing the nation’s farmers and ranchers, while making historic investments in opportunities for SNAP recipients.

“Rural America is hurting. Over the last five years, net farm income has been cut in half. Natural disasters and global markets distorted by predatory trade practices of foreign countries, including high and rising foreign subsidies, tariffs and non-tariff barriers, have resulted in huge production losses and chronically depressed prices that are today jeopardizing the future of America’s farm and ranch families," Conaway said in a news release. "The farm bill keeps faith with our nation’s farmers and ranchers through the current agriculture recession by providing certainty and helping producers manage the enormous risks that are inherent in agriculture. The farm bill also remains faithful to the American taxpayer and consumer."

According to the release, the farm bill will allow consumers to continue to "enjoy the safest, most abundant and most affordable food supply in the world, and taxpayers will reap the more than $112 billion in budget savings projected under the current law." 

SNAP provisions

“Ensuring an affordable food supply is important to every citizen, but it is absolutely critical to the most vulnerable among us who struggle every week to put food on the table," said Conaway. "The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), which is reauthorized under the farm bill, is essential to helping many Americans feed themselves and their families."

Related: House GOP seeks stricter work requirements on food stamps

According to agriculture.house.gov/farmbill/, the farm bill includes "realistic, supportive and simplified work requirement," "paired with funding for states to provide guaranteed, improved and constructive options to move participants toward improved wages, higher-quality employment and independence of government aid."

“The farm bill also keeps faith with these families by not only maintaining SNAP benefits but by offering SNAP beneficiaries a springboard out of poverty to a good paying job, and opportunity for a better way of life for themselves and their families," Conaway added.

Related: 10 highlights from the 2018 Farm Bill

Three years in making

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue applauded Conaway and the House Agriculture Committee for their diligence and hard work on the farm bill. 

It took three years, 114 hearings, six listening sessions and countless industry meetings to lay the groundwork for the 2018 Farm Bill, the House Ag Committee blog stated. 

"The trend of low commodity prices over recent years and headlines about trade disputes have caused anxiety among agricultural producers these days, so this legislation is critically important to give them some much-needed reassurance. In my travels across the country, I have found that farmers have confidence in President Trump’s ability to negotiate strong trade deals with other nations, but they also want a strong, bipartisan Farm Bill that puts their needs above Washington, D.C. politics," Perdue said. "While there is still much work to be done, I am pleased that this Farm Bill aligns with many of the principles USDA released in January."

Perdue said he looks forward to working with ag committees and members of Congress from both sides to pass "a comprehensive Farm Bill in a timely fashion to provide the needed support and certainty to our farmers."

Still work to be done

Farm groups recognized improvements included in the new farm bill, but indicated there is still work to be done before the final bill is approved. 

“Congress made important improvements to the dairy safety net earlier this year, but as we have said repeatedly, there is more that must be done in the upcoming Farm Bill. That need is particularly urgent given the ongoing economic distress facing America’s dairy farmers," said National Milk Producers Federation President Jim Mulhern. 

“The bill introduced today (April 12) includes several changes we have advocated for, particularly in improving coverage levels and providing greater coverage flexibility for dairy producers," Mulhern added. "It also includes important language on price risk management, which NMPF has worked on closely alongside the International Dairy Foods Association. As the Farm Bill moves forward, we will continue to work with our allies in Congress on a bipartisan, bicameral basis to further strengthen the dairy safety net for producers of all sizes.”

National Farmers Union (NFU) President Roger Johnson thanked the committee for its work to put together a farm bill and encouraged Congress to work together in a bipartisan fashion to advance a stronger farm bill for family farmers in 2018.

“Farm income stands at just half of what it was when the last farm bill was written, leaving thousands of farm families struggling financially. Under current conditions and with the programs we have in place, we’re losing farmers. Family farmers and ranchers simply need more resources," Mulhern said. "Family farmers deserve to be a priority. They deserve to have a safety net that addresses current economic conditions. They deserve strong programs that help them improve the long-term sustainability of their farms. And they deserve access to fair and diverse markets. The final version of this farm bill must reflect the growing challenges family farmers face.”

American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall said the 2018 bill "assures America’s farmers and ranchers that congressional agriculture leaders recognize the economic challenges our producers face" but "there are still details to be worked out."

Duvall said the group was pleased to see "meaningful adjustments to the current farm bill's provisions for dairy and the Agriculture Risk Coverage program," as well as "improvements proposed for federal crop insurance," and other provisions for conservation, specialty crops and rural development programs.

“The House Agriculture Committee’s proposed 2018 farm bill shows the committee is aware of a farm economy teetering on a knife’s edge. The legislation released today will assist farmers and ranchers battered by commodity prices that often do not cover the costs of production. This is one step to bring certainty to our farmers when we face challenges from many different directions," said Duvall. "We urge Congress to complete a new farm bill soon that promotes food security, a strong farm economy and the thousands of jobs that are supported by America’s agricultural productivity.”

The National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC) praised portions of the bill for maintaining programs critical to the success of young farmers, such as maintaining beginning farmer training and land access programs, however, the group had concerns with changes to nutrition programs that could threaten the bipartisan effort needed to pass a farm bill by this year's September deadline. 

“Over the past year, young farmers from across the country have shown up and spoken out to make sure Congress knows what they need from this farm bill,” said Lindsey Lusher Shute, NYFC Executive Director and Co-founder. “Clearly, some parts of that message were heard. This bill would uphold programs that are making a difference. But it’s also the expectation of farmers and the American people that both parties work together to pass a farm bill on time — one that provides a safety net for farmers and consumers. This Committee has got to find a way to get that done.”

However, the Agriculture Energy Coalition says the bill would provide only discretionary funding for energy programs and urged Congress to provide mandatory funding for energy programs in the farm bill. 

Related: Farm Bill energy programs need mandatory funding

"The farm bill energy title programs build infrastructure, attract private investment and spur innovation in rural America," said Lloyd Ritter, director of the Agriculture Energy Coalition. "And they have a successful record in creating and expanding economic opportunities for rural America."

Business Wire contributed to this article. 

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