Progress on the Farm Bill has been slow to say the least. With the change in control of the House of Representatives from Republicans to Democrats at the beginning of 2019, what’s ahead for the Farm Bill? Will the House and Senate get the bill passed during this lame-duck session? Here are the latest developments from Brownfield Ag News, Successful Farming, DTNPF and Morning Ag Clips.
Farm Bill Challenges
Larry Lee of Brownfield Ag News provided a quick update on progress with the Farm Bill. He said that Ag Committee leaders are back at work, trying to reach a deal. Republican Chairman Mike Conaway and Democrat Collin Peterson have been working hard on a compromise.
Reaching an agreement on the bill has been challenging for several reasons. One of the biggest points of contention is with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), but debate also continues for the Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC), Price Loss Coverage (PLC), and Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). Thus, there’s a lot of negotiating left to be done, but at this point, both Conaway and Peterson are saying they want to get the bill passed before the end of the year.
Chuck Abbott of Successful Farming reports on where things might be headed for the Farm Bill as majority in the House flips. Peterson is set to take over the position of Chairman in January, when the Democrats gain control. When the Farm Bill was introduced, House Republicans pushed for tighter work restrictions for SNAP at the request of President Trump. This occurred despite strong opposition from House Democrats and both parties in the Senate. The proposed changes to SNAP have held up progress on the bill significantly.
Now, as Democrats regain control of the House, it appears that the changes for SNAP portion of the Farm Bill may fall by the wayside. House Republicans don’t have leverage anymore to push the Farm Bill through.
Lawmakers Weigh-in on SNAP
Peterson, a fiscally conservative “Blue Dog Democrat,” appears confident that House Republicans will come around.
“The food stamp stuff, I told them four months ago this was not going to fly,” Peterson said.
Iowa Senator Charles Grassley agrees.
“If the House of Representatives wants a five-year farm bill … they better fish or cut bait and give up on that,” Iowa Senator Charles Grassley told reporters, referring to SNAP work requirements.
The specific SNAP requirements up for debate relate to work waivers. Democrats aren’t opposed to having work requirements or job training to be eligible for SNAP, they are opposed to the ability of individual states to avoid the requirements via waivers. According to Peterson:
“The problem is not that we don’t have work requirements, the problem is we have all of these waivers,” Peterson said, noting USDA is working to tighten waiver requirements already.
Conservation Reserve Program
Another point of debate the the Farm Bill concerns the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). The program provides incentives for growers that utilize no-till and other practices that promote healthy soil. The USDA no longer has authority to take new sign-ups for the program.
Many Democrats would like to see more acreage included in the CRP. The House version of the bill increases CRP acres to 29 million, but lowers rental rates to 80% of the average county rental rate. The Senate version of the bill increases acres slightly, up to 25 million and lowers the rental rate to 88% of the county average rate.
Peterson wants to preserve CRP, which is currently phased out in the House version of the bill, but present in the Senate version.
Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC), and Price Loss Coverage (PLC) payments are also up for further discussion. Currently, the House version of the bill shifts base acre payments away from land that hasn’t been planted in the last ten years, and uses those funds to boost cotton payments. Furthermore, cotton crops have experienced droughts recently, and these proposed changes would hand out $438 million to cotton growers over ten years. A large portion of the land that hasn’t been planted over the last ten years includes wheat acres in Kansas converted to pasture. As one might expect, Senate Ag Chairman Pat Roberts, a Republican from Kansas, doesn’t like that much.
“This is an issue between the two chairmen,” Peterson said, adding he thinks the issue will be resolved.
The National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) has urged Congress to get the Farm Bill passed during this lame-duck session. They’d like to be rid of all this uncertainty. Jimmie Musick, an Oklahoma farmer and NAWG president said,
“In particular, the outlook for foreign market development funding is in doubt until action is taken.”
It appears fairly certain that hemp will be included in the final Farm Bill. Morning Ag Clips shared an article written by Bruce Schreiner of the Associated Press. Schreiner reports that Mitch McConnell, Senate Majority Leader, has promised that the bill will legalize hemp.
“It will be in there, I guarantee you that,” he told reporters in Kentucky.
The crop is making a big comeback in Kentucky in particular. McConnell wants to legalize hemp as an agricultural commodity. Hemp and marijuana are the same species, but hemp has much smaller amounts of THC, the chemical compound that causes the “high” in marijuana.
The hemp provision of the Farm Bill is currently in the Senate version, but not the House version.
McConnell is optimistic about the crop’s potential in his state. The crop is extremely versatile and can be used to produce rope, clothing, milk, cooking oil, soap, lotion, animal bedding, building materials and even biofuel. The comeback of the crop began in 2014. A provision in that year’s Farm Bill allowed states to pursue research and development.
Key members of the House and Senate want to get the Farm Bill passed during the lame-duck session. Expect changes to the bill in with SNAP, ARC, PLC, CRP, and Hemp. With House control switching to the Democrats next year, House Republicans are likely going to have to be more willing to negotiate. They’re definitely trying- let’s hope they can get through the negotiations, vote, and pass it.