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Senate Passes Farm Bill Conference Report, 87-13

news release on Monday from the House Agriculture Committee stated that, “House and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairmen Mike Conaway (R-Texas) and Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and Ranking Members Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) and Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) today released the text of the bipartisan, bicameral 2018 Farm Bill conference report.”  On Tuesday evening, the Senate passed the measure by a vote of 87-13.

Background

Prior to the Senate’s vote on Tuesday, recall that the House Agriculture Committee passed its version of the 2018 Farm Bill back in April, while the Senate Ag Committee passed its version in early June.

After that Committee action, an initial House vote on the measure failed in May.  However, due to technical parliamentary procedures, the measure was reconsidered in June, and passed on a narrow 213-211 vote.

The full Senate passed its Farm Bill as an amendment to H.R. 2 in late June with a strong bipartisan vote of 86-11.

Conference proceedings officially began on September 5, 2018.

Prelude to a Vote: Farm Bill Conference Report Complete

Reuters writer Humeyra Pamuk reported on Monday that, “U.S. lawmakers have reached an agreement on the Farm Bill that drops a proposal to tighten food stamps restrictions backed by President Donald Trump, and are looking to vote on it this week, according to congressional staffers.”

The article noted that, “The final text shows Republicans in the lame duck Congress had to walk back from some demands, the biggest being the Trump-backed proposal to impose stricter worker requirements for recipients of food stamps.”

The Reuters article indicated that, “Food stamps, as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is known, are used by more than 40 million Americans, or about 12 percent of the total U.S. population.

“The move to tighten eligibility criteria failed to garner enough support in the Senate, and Trump blamed Democrats opposed to the tighter restrictions for stalling the bill.”

SNAP, Annual Summary, FY2013-FY2017. USDA- Food and Nutrition Service (Last Updated: December 7, 2018, https://goo.gl/8CfN98).

SNAP Data for September 2017, August 2018, and September 2018. USDA- Food and Nutrition Service (Last Updated: December 7, 2018, https://goo.gl/8CfN98).

Monday’s article also pointed out that, “The bill will extend the eligibility for crop subsidies to nephews, nieces and cousins of a farmer, which is likely to escalate criticism over what is already seen as a too-broad definition of who qualifies for the funds.

“At the moment, a farmer’s immediate family can be eligible for crop subsidies up to $125,000 per person based on ‘active engagement.’ Opponents say such language is vague and could apply to people who do not even live on the farm and only carry out management roles.”

In a more narrow look at SNAP issues, Bryan Lowry and Kate Irby reported on Tuesday at The Kansas City Star Online that, “Under current law, able-bodied adults who do not have dependent children and are under the age of 50 must work for 20 hours a week or participate in job training to receive food aid under the program.

“The original House Republican proposal expanded the work requirements to include people up to age 59 and parents of children over the age of 6. It also included proposals that would have made it harder for states to give exceptions to those rules.”

The article noted that, “States have the power to waive the work requirements to qualify for food aid in areas with high unemployment. Currently 36 states and territories, including California, are taking advantage of that ability.”

Lowery and Irby pointed out that, “The only change to the process is that applying for the exclusions will now require the support of the state’s governor. Currently, a state’s agency submits the application and doesn’t have to notify the governor beforehand.

“It’s a change that Republicans are hoping will put political pressure on governors and deter states from the seeking the waivers.

“But the requirement for gubernatorial OKs could be a largely symbolic change since the heads of state agencies applying for the waivers are usually appointed by the governor.”

And DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported on Tuesday that,

Under the bill, the current reference prices for corn ($3.70 a bushel), soybeans ($8.40) and wheat, ($5.50) and reference prices for other commodities remains the same as the 2014 farm bill, but the new farm bill take a plan from the House version that creates a five-year Olympic formula that would allow reference prices to move upward as much as 15%. Under the right conditions, that could bump up the corn PLC price to $4.26 while the soybean reference price would move to $9.66 and wheat would go to $6.33.

“Those higher reference prices would be used in both PLC and the Agricultural Risk Coverage Program.

“The farm bill makes some other changes to the Agricultural Risk Coverage program, including a trend-yield adjustment and a provision that allows USDA to divide some of the largest counties in the country into smaller units for county average yields.”

The DTN article added that, “USDA also will allow Price Loss Coverage yield updates nationally in 2020 for all crops. In 2019, farmers will be allowed to switch commodity programs and in 2021 farmers will be allowed annually to switch back and forth between ARC and PLC.

Base acres that have been planted to grass from 2009-2017 crop years will no longer be eligible for ARC or PLC programs. Instead, the farm bill will allow landowners to enroll those acres into a special five-year Conservation Stewardship Program contract at $18 an acre.

The farm bill also includes raising marketing loan rates for most commodity crops as well. Soybeans will see a 24% increase in the marketing loan to $6.20 a bushel. Loan rates for corn and grain sorghum move to $2.20 a bushel, and $3.38 a bushel for wheat.”

Mr. Clayton also pointed out that, “Under the conservation title, the Conservation Reserve Program will be increased from 24 million acres to 27 million acres, but rental rates will be lowered to 85% of the average county rental rate for general signup and 90% of the average county rate for continuous signup. USDA’s National Agricultural Statistic Service will be required to update rental rates annually under the bill.

The Conservation Stewardship Program is maintained, but the bill removes annual acreage enrollments and payments. CSP also would be limited to $1 billion in budget authority while more funding is shifted to the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program and the Regional Conservation Partnership Program.

“In crop insurance, the bill makes some minor improvements in the products for forage and grazing insurance, but little else changes, following the mantra of farm groups that simply insisted Congress ‘do no harm’ to insurance.”

Senate Passes Farm Bill Conference Report

Bloomberg writers Daniel Flatley and Teaganne Finn reported Tuesday that, “The Senate passed a five-year farm bill renewing agricultural subsidies and food aid for low-income families after weeks of negotiations over work requirements for food stamp recipients and a last-minute snag over forestry provisions.”

The Bloomberg article noted that, “Once the House votes final approval, the measure, H.R. 2, would go to Trump for his expected signature. Farm programs under current law began to expire Sept. 30. ‘We made the compromises we needed to make to get this deal done,’ House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway of Texas told reporters last month.

Trump told reporters at the White House on Tuesday that ‘the farm bill is in very good shape,’ and ‘our farmers are well taken care of.'”

Associated Press wrier Juliet Linderman reported Tuesday that, “Majority Leader Mitch McConnell brought the bill up for a quick vote Tuesday, less than one day after the House and Senate reached an agreement on the final text.”

The AP article indicated that, “‘This is what happens when the Congress works in a bipartisan, bicameral fashion,’ said Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., ahead of the vote. ‘It’s a good bill that accomplishes what we set out to do: provide certainty and predictability for farmers and families in rural communities.'”

And with respect to the executive branch, the AP article stated that, “Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said Monday the bill ‘maintains a strong safety net for the farm economy, invests in critical agricultural research and will promote agriculture exports through robust trade programs,’ but voiced disappointment over the failed changes to the work requirement.

“‘While we would have liked to see more progress on work requirements for SNAP recipients and forest management reforms, the conference agreement does include several helpful provisions, and we will continue to build upon these through our authorities,’ he said.”

Keith Good

Keith Good is the social media manager for the farmdoc project at the University of Illinois. He is well known in agricultural circles for the daily FarmPolicy.com News Summary.

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