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Farm Bill- “Sooner Rather Than Later”

Today’s update looks at recent news items discussing the Farm Bill, with specific focus on the potential timing of when Congress may take up the legislation.  Lawmaker perspectives on provisions in the bill, including CRP issues, payment limits, and SNAP, are also discussed.

Farm Bill Timing- Perfect Legislation to Tee-Up Next

Both the House and Senate have now passed tax reform bills, albeit with differences that still must be resolved before a new measure is passed into law.

Recall that in an interview last month, House Ag Committee Chairman Mike Conaway explained that with respect to the timing of the Farm Bill,  “I’m hopeful that the muscle memory of having passed a big deal [tax reform] that’s big for America, that we’ll move right to the farm bill and get it passed across the House floor, which I believe will be another big deal for America, to get it done on time.”  The Texas Republican added that, “So I’m hopeful the first quarter of next year.”

An update posted on Wednesday at the Red River Farm Network indicated that, “After the tax bill, House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D., Minn.) expects congressional leaders to look for a bill that can draw bipartisan support.

In Peterson’s words, the farm bill would be the perfect legislation to tee-up next.

“‘I had a meeting with the Chairman (Conaway). We agreed that we’re going to start marking this up in committee at the end of January or the first part of February. We need to move this sooner-rather-than-later.’  In an interview with the Red River Farm Network [RRFN], Peterson said House Agriculture Committee members and staff members have offered input on the farm bill.

“‘We’ve seen some of the language, but not all of it. My expectation is that we’ll have a starting draft document that will be supported by myself and the chairman. We’ll go through regular order; people will be able to offer amendments and the public will be able to weigh in. That’s the way things should be done and that’s how they should have done the tax bill.’

After the farm bill moves through the Agriculture Committee, Peterson believes it hit the House floor in February or March.”

To listen to Rep. Peterson’s remarks in the RRFN interview, just click here (MP3- 90 seconds).

Yesterday’s RRFN update added that, “A spokesperson for House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway was unable to confirm the timing for mark-up of the farm bill, but said it will move in the first quarter. The spokesperson said ‘the committee stands to be ready when the (Majority) Leader provides floor time.'”

In last month’s interview, Chairman Conaway noted that, “My preference would be to get a date from the leader and then move back about ten days, run it through committee, have it out there over the weekend, and then be on the floor the following week. So that would be my preferential timing.”

Also, Meghan Grebner reported on Tuesday at Brownfield that, “An Illinois Congresswoman says while tax reform is currently at the top of the ‘to-do’ list in Washington, DC, debate over the 2018 Farm Bill is in sight.

“Representative Cheri Bustos says, ‘tentatively it looks we will start looking at the farm bill more closely in about February of 2018.'”

Meanwhile, Politico writer Christine Haughney reported in Wednesday’s Morning Agriculture that, “Sen. Chuck Grassley (R., Iowa) isn’t gearing up for a swift farm bill process. He told reporters Tuesday that the Senate Agriculture Committee had not yet started drafting the 2018 farm bill — and didn’t elaborate on a potential timeline.”

Farm Bill Provisions

Philip Jones reported on Monday at the News Tribune Online (Jefferson City, Mo.) that, “Congresswoman Vicky Hartzler, R-Columbia, said crop insurance programs must be protected, while other economic leaders said trade agreements must be protected during a Farm Bureau forum Sunday.

“The Jefferson City-based Missouri Farm Bureau held the forum with congressional and economic leaders during its 2017 annual meeting Sunday through Dec. 5 at the Tan-Tar-A resort in Osage Beach. The forum discussed how a new farm bill will be passed in 2018 and what should be included.”

The article quoted Rep. Hartzler as saying, “We’ve got to keep our crop insurance program.  That is the most important part of this farm bill.”

Mr. Jones also pointed out that, “Because of money constraints though, the new farm bill will look similar to the 2014 farm bill, [Rep. Collin Peterson (D., Minn.)] said.

“‘This is going to look very much like the current bill,’ he said. ‘The reason is, we don’t have any money.'”

The article added that, “Peterson said an important change could come to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Conservation Reserve Program, which allows farmers to remove environmentally sensitive land from production in exchange for a yearly rental payment. The program also requires farmers to plant species that will improve environmental health and quality.

“Peterson said current rental prices are low, and he wants rental prices to be raised in the new farm bill.

“‘What we hope to do is use the price to get some of the good land out and get some of the land that should be covered in,’ Peterson said.”

And on Tuesday, DTN writer Todd Neeley reported that, “A new USDA report shows larger farms with higher household incomes have increasingly seen more in federal commodity payments as farms in the United States have consolidated. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, told agriculture journalists on Tuesday he plans to use the next farm bill to push for changes to that trend.

“‘I strongly believe these farms are big enough that they shouldn’t continue to get unlimited federal dollars,’ he said during a conference call.

“‘I intend to speak on the floor of the United States Senate so they know where I’m at. I want a limit on what a single farm entity can get under all these farm programs.'”

The DTN article noted that, “Since federal agencies are expected to do more with fewer dollars, Grassley said he believes other lawmakers may get on board with limiting federal commodity payments in some way. Debate on the next farm bill is expected to get rolling in 2018, as Grassley said the Senate has yet to begin drafting legislation.”

Meanwhile, in remarks delivered yesterday on the House Floor, House Ag Committee Member Jodey Arrington (R., Tex.) spoke about some of his Farm Bill priorities and stated that, “The first is that we must maintain America’s food and fiber independence from other countries, which, like energy independence, is a national security imperative.

“To achieve this objective, we must maintain a viable and responsible safety net for all commodities, which means the committee must work in a bipartisan way to get cotton back in under title I of the farm bill.

“We can never again let the World Trade Organization dictate agriculture policy to the United States.”

Rep. Arrington added that,

Addressing the gaping hole in the current agriculture safety net for cotton and fixing other shortfalls and risk management for both crops and livestock will ensure a strong, viable agriculture sector for the United States and rural America.

With respect to the SNAP program, Rep. Arrington stated that, “Lastly, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program [SNAP] needs a more focused accountability. As we craft the next farm bill, we should continue to monitor the effectiveness of all programs, especially SNAP, which accounts for 80 percent of all spending in the farm bill.

“While the intent is well-meaning, the unintended consequence is an increase of recipients who are work-capable adults without dependents, accounting for nearly 30 percent of all recipients. It is imperative to require that able- bodied adults work in order to receive government assistance not just in SNAP, but all government programs.”

Graph from, “What Is the Farm Bill?” Congressional Research Service (November 8, 2016).

In additional reporting on SNAP related issues, Helena Bottemiller Evich indicated at Politico on Tuesday that, “USDA signaled on Tuesday plans to give states greater flexibility over how they administer food stamps, potentially opening the door to stricter work requirements or drug testing on recipients.

“The announcement comes as Wisconsin Gov. Scott Walker announced that he would move ahead with drug testing on able-bodied adults applying for food stamps, something the Obama administration had successfully blocked in the past.”

The Politico article noted that, “The USDA released a vaguely worded letter late Tuesday afternoon outlining principles to promote self-sufficiency and discourage waste, fraud and abuse in the program — which has a historically low rate for such problems.

“‘USDA intends to offer state agencies greater local control over SNAP, the safety net program that serves millions of eligible, low-income individuals and families,’ the department said in a statement. ‘Specifics on such flexibilities will be communicated to state agencies in the coming weeks.'”

Keith Good Photo

Keith Good is the Farm Policy News editor for the farmdoc project. He has previously worked for the USDA’s National Agricultural Statistics Service, and compiled the daily News Summary from 2003-2015. He is a graduate of Purdue University (M.S.- Agricultural Economics), and Southern Illinois University School of Law.

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