With Senate and House versions passed, new optimism for 2018 farm bill

By Amanda Bilek, Minnesota Corn Growers Association senior public policy director

Earlier this year the road to passing a farm bill in 2018 seemed bleak, as controversial reforms brought a new level of contention between both political parties. But after the Senate passed their farm bill last week, we now have a version from both chambers to reconcile, producing cautious optimism. We offer a quick recap below on how the House and Senate farm bills stack up to Minnesota Corn Growers Association (MCGA) farm bill priorities.

After first suffering a defeat, the House narrowly passed H.R. 2, the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018, known as the farm bill, on June 21. The bill largely reflects current law especially when it comes to crop insurance (the current crop insurance program is maintained). There are some improvements to various programs including:

  • Switches to yield data from the Risk Management Agency (RMA) instead of the National Ag Statistics Service (NASS) as the primary data source for the Price Loss Coverage (PLC) and Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) programs. It also bases ARC payments on physical location of farm, as well as enables farmers to make a new choice between ARC and PLC.
  • Increases Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acreage cap from 24 million acres to 29 million acres. The bill caps the max CRP rental rate at no more than 80 percent of the NASS county average.
  • Creates an International Market Development Program, which combines Market Access Program (MAP), Foreign Market Development Program (FMD) and two other programs. The bill would continue to fund each program at current levels of funding with a slight increase of $1.5 million per year.

The source of contention on the House side was the inclusion of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) reforms in the farm bill, including work and training requirements. Due to the reforms, the House farm bill received no support from Democrats on final passage. Democrats did help defeat several amendments during floor debate that would have been harmful to U.S. farmers and ranchers.

The Senate passed their version of the farm bill in an early evening vote on June 28 on a wide bipartisan margin of 86-11. The Senate bill did not include some of the more controversial changes to SNAP.

The Senate farm bill also largely maintains current law. Crop insurance is protected by maintaining the same program as the 2014 bill. Similar to the House, the Senate bills make administrative changes to current programs, including:

  • Switches to RMA yield data for ARC and PLC programs. It also lowers the adjusted gross income limit to $700,000, from $900,000, annually based on a three year average. The bill bases ARC payments on farm location, as well as enables farmers to make a new choice between ARC and PLC.
  • Increases CRP acreage cap by 1 million acres and caps CRP rental rate at 88.5% of NASS county average.
  • Reauthorizes MAP and FMD at current funding authorization, as well as authorizes $6 million per year for a “Priority Trade Fund” used by the U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary for market development or export promotion activities.

MCGA is pleased to see the progress so far on reauthorizing a new farm bill this year. Completing a farm bill on time will give farmers much needed certainty during uncertain times in the agriculture economy. Additionally, reauthorization of the farm bill will give farmers the option to make a new choice between ARC and PLC; a farm bill extension would not enable a new choice.

The next step will be for a conference committee to be appointed that will reconcile the differences between the House and Senate bills so a final bill can be repassed and sent to the President’s desk. Congress returns from recess next week, and we will be sure to keep you updated on farm bill developments.

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