U.S. Senate ag committee approves bipartisan farm bill

by Jay Sjerven
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WASHINGTON, D.C., U.S. — By a vote of 20 to 1, the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry on June 13 approved the bipartisan Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, a bill that would reauthorize farm and nutrition programs for the next five years, or through fiscal 2023. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky indicated the Senate may consider and vote on the farm bill before the July 4 recess.

Unlike the House farm bill, which was passed by the House Committee on Agriculture on a party-line vote but was defeated on the House floor in April, the Senate farm bill has broad support on both sides of the aisle. This bipartisan support reflected agreement on general farm policy as well as on maintaining the integrity of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program without imposing the significantly more stringent work and training requirements on SNAP recipients that ensured the House bill received not a single Democratic vote either in the agriculture committee or on the House floor.  

The Senate bill would reauthorize all 12 titles of the 2014 farm bill with some mostly modest adjustments. The Senate bill would reauthorize the Price Loss Coverage and Agriculture Risk Coverage programs as the principal farm support programs. Notably, the bill would lower the adjusted gross income eligibility cap for producers to receive benefits under federal farm and conservation programs to $700,000 from the current $900,000. Additionally, the bill would extend the crop insurance title of the current farm bill with only minor revisions, according to an initial review of the bill by the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics of the University of Illinois.

The bill would raise the Conservation Reserve Program cap to 25 million acres from the current 24 million acres but reduce rental rates for the land withdrawn from production and enrolled in the program.

With regard to the nutrition title contained in the draft of the Senate farm bill, the University of Illinois’s initial analysis of the draft bill said, “SNAP and other food assistance programs in the title are extended largely unchanged. In general, existing SNAP work requirements are slightly modified, with some additional funding for education and training. The controversial changes proposed by the House Ag Committee to work and eligibility requirements, as well as other benefit calculations, are not included in the Senate draft. There also does not appear to be any controversial revisions that would reduce benefits to participating households or reduce participation.”

 Farm commodity organizations applauded the passage of the Senate farm bill in committee as an important step forward in the effort to ensure a new farm law takes effect on the expiration of the 2014 farm act on Sept. 30. They were supportive of the bill’s reauthorization of the Market Access Program and the Foreign Market Development Program and the increased funding directed at those trade development initiatives.

Jimmie Musick, president of the National Association of Wheat Growers, said, “Trade and access to new markets are vital for wheat farmers to stay in business. NAWG thanks the Committee for reauthorizing and increasing funding for the Market Access Program and Foreign Market Development Program. MAP and F.M.D. are critical to building and expanding United States wheat into new markets and increasing wheat demand around the world.”

Musick also thanked the committee for its attention to agricultural research.

“NAWG appreciates the increased authorization and funding of the U.S. Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative to help find solutions to this troublesome plant disease,” he said. “These research programs are critical for wheat farmers.”

Davie Stephens, a Kentucky soybean grower and vice-president of the American Soybean Association, said, “We’re grateful to Chairman Roberts and Ranking Member Stabenow for their bipartisan effort and for taking this important step toward completing the farm bill this year. Farmers need the certainty of a new five-year bill to manage continuing low crop prices and farm income as well as volatile conditions affecting our vital export markets”

Mark Knott, president of Feeding America, said, “With regard to SNAP, the Senate measure is a stark improvement over the House farm bill, which would dramatically limit the availability of the program and reduce the benefits provided. The Senate bill recognizes the SNAP program is already designed to encourage individuals to find work, and work more hours, and takes steps to address barriers to work that many face by strengthening and increasing partnerships in employment and training. The bill also makes targeted and reasonable improvements to SNAP program administration and in areas that will further strengthen the program.”

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