The U.S. House Committee on Agriculture released its version of the next farm bill, the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018, on April 12.
The measure has a very long way to go before it becomes law, noted Bob White, INFB national government relations director, but the measure does provide some bright spots.
“The House Agriculture Committee’s proposed 2018 farm bill shows the committee is aware of a farm economy teetering on a knife’s edge,” said AFBF President Zippy Duvall. The bill, he added, “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. There are still details to be worked out, and we stand ready to work closely with leadership and members of the committee to move forward.”
The following summary is based on highlights provided by the House Ag Committee.
FARM POLICY: The bill works to address the five-year, 52-percent decline in the farm economy by providing certainty that an extension of current policy cannot provide. It reauthorizes and strengthens the Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC) options through 2023. Producers are given an opportunity to make a new election between ARC and PLC with several improvements. Those improvements include allowing a new yield update opportunity for producers who were facing severe drought during the previous yield update, allowing reference prices to adjust to improved market conditions, and prioritizing the use of Risk Management Agency data for administering ARC to minimize disparities between counties.
NUTRITION: The proposal makes more than 35 changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the nation’s flagship nutrition program. Most notably, existing work requirements are strengthened and paired with a variety of options to increase opportunities for SNAP recipients, including participating in a fully-funded employment and training slot. Individuals who choose not to participate will no longer be eligible for SNAP.
TRADE: The bill provides a strengthened safety net for farmers and ranchers, restoring funding for vital tools for trade promotion and market development. It maintains long-standing legal authority for the USDA to provide assistance to farmers and ranchers affected by unfair foreign trading practices.
CONSERVATION: The bill prioritizes working-lands conservation by folding the best features of the Conservation Stewardship Program into the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, enabling a significant investment in conservation practices such as the use of cover crops.
CROP INSURANCE: At the request of virtually every farmer, rural banker and rural business in the country, the farm bill protects crop insurance. Some improvements are made but, overall, the farm bill doesn’t fix what isn’t broken.
REGULATORY REFORM: The farm bill streamlines and reduces regulatory burdens. It also cuts red-tape across the conservation programs, eliminating unnecessary registration requirements for producers.
RURAL DEVELOPMENT: Rural areas of the U.S. should have the same access to broadband and infrastructure that urban areas do. The bill authorizes substantial annual appropriations for rural broadband and requires USDA to establish forward-looking broadband standards. The farm bill also strengthens the suite of rural development initiatives to promote jobs and economic activity in rural America; and it gives USDA the authority to prioritize projects that help communities meet the challenges of the opioid crisis.
ANIMAL HEALTH: The proposal establishes a new National Animal Disease Preparedness and Response Program, modeled on the highly successful Plant Pest and Disease Management and Disaster Prevention Program that has strengthened USDA’s ability to protect U.S. agriculture and natural resources from foreign plant pest threats.
SPECIALTY & ORGANIC CROPS: Specialty crops are an essential component of the nation’s food policy. The farm bill restores funding for Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops under the new International Market Development Program. It also seeks to improve crop insurance for specialty crops. The bill reauthorizes several programs that support marketing and promotion of these crops and makes key improvements to the specialty crop research and block grant programs.
BEGINNING FARMERS & RANCHERS: The bill maintains several provisions to help beginning farmers and ranchers establish themselves in agriculture and enhances access to crop insurance.