Farm bill passes without much drama: new bill makes small but important changes in farm programs

Farm bill_Red barn in winterThe farm bill passed by Congress and signed by the president just before Christmas is generally in agreement with Farm Bureau’s policy positions, particularly regarding protecting crop insurance and other risk management tools.

If it seems as though the measure passed with relatively little controversy, explained Bob White, Indiana Farm Bureau national government relations director, that’s because it actually was not a controversial piece of legislation in spite of being, as usual, long and complicated.

“It’s pretty vanilla, as far as farm bills go,” White said.

Among the improvements are changes to the Agriculture Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage programs that will improve risk management support.

Under the 2014 farm bill, farmers had to choose between the two on a commodity by commodity basis, and they were locked into those choices for the life of the bill. But under the 2018 bill, while they still must choose (deadlines have not been set as of The Hoosier Farmer’s deadline), farmers are not bound to stay in the same program they chose under the 2014 farm bill. And no matter which program they choose, they can change their election after two years.

Beginning in 2021, growers will have an opportunity to make an annual re-election of ARC or PLC for the three remaining crop years.

Another change is under crop insurance, which will now be based on Risk Management Agency data instead of National Agricultural Statistics Service data. That was in fact one of the recommendations of INFB’s farm bill task force, White said.

Conservation programs were changed only slightly under the new bill, White said.

“Congress made the tweaks that were needed,” he said.

This is the first time in nearly 30 years that a farm bill has actually been authorized more or less on time – that is, within the year for which its programs had been authorized. The last time a farm bill passed this early was with the Food, Agriculture, Conservation and Trade Act of 1990.

“Farmers now need to start talking to FSA and their crop insurance agents,” White added. Another good information source is Farmdoc, a site that compiles articles, analysis and calculation tools from farm economists at the University of Illinois, Purdue and other Corn Belt universities.