2018 Farm Bill Vote Approaching
by Kirsten Breau
As many of you know, Forsyth Farmers’ Market has been closely following the 2018 Farm Bill. The Farm Bill is a nearly trillion-dollar legislative policy that encompasses a huge range of federal food and agricultural programs, from crop subsidies and crop insurance to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The bill is only updated once every five years. We have lobbied our local officials, advocated for changes that are inclusive of our community and worked to educate the public on the importance of the bill.
Over the summer, both the House of Representatives and the Senate passed different versions of the Farm Bill, each reflecting their stance on SNAP and other agricultural programs. Over the past few months, representatives from both houses have met in a conference committee to iron out the differences of the two bills. The House of Representatives passed a bill that included huge cuts to the SNAP program and enforced inflexible restrictions through strict and unjust penalties. These restrictions and work requirements became the largest barrier to negotiation between the House and the Senate as the Senate did not support the inclusion of the new work requirements (NYT, 2018). Now, a compromised bill negotiated by the conference committee will be brought before both the House and Senate for voting. This revised bill is much more aligned with the Senate’s previous version than that of the House’s, according to Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts (Politico, 2018).
Full details on what the compromised bill includes have not been released, but will be made public once the Congressional Budget Office scores it (says how much it will cost). Dan Gunderson and Elizabeth Dunbar wrote a summary of what is expected to be found on the most recent version of the bill for MPR News. That summary can be found below. Collin Peterson, mentioned in the summary, is the lead Democrat for the House Agriculture Committee. You can find an update from us on the 2018 Farm Bill following this month’s vote.
Here is the summary from MPR News’, “Peterson: New farm bill preserves status quo, but will it help farmers enough?”:
“The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will not be subject to work requirements, as Republicans in the House had wanted, Peterson said. SNAP accounts for the largest part of the farm bill, making up 80 percent of the hundreds of billions of dollars authorized in the bill. Peterson says the final bill includes some language from the Senate proposal focused on preventing fraud in the program.”
“Small dairy farmers come out ahead in the bill, Peterson said. "If you have less than 5 million pounds of milk, and that's about 240 cows, under what we've put in the bill, you will not be able to lose money," he said. "Hopefully we'll give the safety net dairy farmers need to stay in business."
The Conservation Reserve Program, which pays farmers to set aside land for conservation, will grow by 3 million acres, he said. But Peterson added that payments will be capped and landowners won't be able to get extra money to pay for things like planting pollinator habitat. "We're trying to simplify the seed, trying to get rid of the pollinator habitat stuff, trying to get this back to what it used to be," he said. "If I had my way, we'd have alfalfa and bromegrass," grown for cattle feed, in the program.
Crop insurance programs will see some minor changes, Peterson said, aimed at achieving more consistent payments for farmers.
He said the bill preserves the Conservation Stewardship Program, which pays farmers to use practices that reduce soil erosion and promote better water quality, such as planting cover crops and altering the way fertilizers and herbicides are applied. Minnesota has been a top recipient of the program. "There was a big fight over that," Peterson said, explaining that some in Congress had wanted to change the way it works. Ultimately, he said, the program will remain in place as is.
Additional money for forestry management, which President Trump had called for following the wildfires in California, did not end up in the bill, Peterson said.
Industrial hemp is considered a commodity crop in the bill, opening the door for farmers across the country to try growing it. Industrial hemp can be grown for its fiber and a popular health supplement called CBD oil. "I may grow some hemp on my farm. I'm looking at it," Peterson said. "There's a big market for this stuff that we've been ceding to Canada and other places."” (MPR, 2018)