Center for Rural Affairs: farm bill passed by Senate Agriculture Committee is a mixed bag

Wisconsin State Farmer
Anna Johnson

LYONS, NE - On June 13, the Senate Agriculture Committee passed its version of the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, commonly known as the farm bill. In response, Center for Rural Affairs Senior Policy Associate Anna Johnson applauds the Senate for its bipartisan work, but says there still are issues to address.

“There are several encouraging proposals in this bill that we will work to support toward final passage,” Johnson said. “For example, the bill strengthens the coordination between conservation and crop insurance, improves sodsaver provisions, and would create greater incentives for cover crops.”

“The bill also takes a historic step by creating a pathway to permanency for several programs essential for beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers,” she continued. “Additionally, the restoration of the position of Undersecretary for Rural Development would bring rural development back on equal footing with the rest of the agencies at the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).”

Johnson said the bill falls short on bringing greater fairness to government agriculture programs.

“We were extremely disappointed that Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IA) was not allowed to bring forward a proposal to address abuse of farm programs,” she said. “We will work with Sen. Grassley as the bill moves to the floor. We call on the Senate to close loopholes that allow excessively high payments of taxpayer dollars to go to a small number of large and wealthy operations.”

In addition, Johnson said she is troubled by the committee’s vote to increase the size of loans available from the USDA.

“Raising loan limits without providing additional funding for loans will deplete available funds more quickly,” she said. “If USDA has another funding shortfall for loans, many farmers and ranchers may struggle to access credit as a result of today’s decision.”
“Additional structural reform proposals to cap crop insurance premium subsidies were unfortunately also absent in the bill,” Johnson continued.

Furthermore, Johnson expressed concern that the bill cuts funding from working lands conservation programs such as the Conservation Stewardship Program and the Environmental Quality Incentive Program. These programs allow farmers and ranchers to implement conservation practices on their land while maintaining production.

Finally, the bill fails to renew funding for the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program, "undercutting the work of rural entrepreneurs." The program allows rural entrepreneurs to access loan capital to start businesses, strengthen their communities, and realize their dreams. Johnson said restoring funding for this program is critical.
The bill passed by the committee today will next be debated on the Senate floor. The current farm bill expires Sept 30.

“We look forward to supporting the several improvements in this bill while vigorously pushing on its harmful measures as the bill moves to the floor,” Johnson said.