Senate farm bill moves out of committee

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Senator Sherrod Brown
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, speaking during the markup of the 2018 farm bill, said the bill was "good for farmers, good for families, good for taxpayers.” (CSPAN screen shot)

By Susan Crowell / editor@farmanddairy.com

WASHINGTON — The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry maintained its bipartisan stance during markup of its version of the 2018 farm bill, and passed the bill out of committee with a 20-1 vote earlier today.

Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley was the lone no vote.

Officially called the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, the five-year legislation covers agriculture, conservation and forestry policy, but by far its largest component is nutrition assistance, which makes up three-quarters of farm bill spending and assists more than 40 million people.

“The Senate Agriculture Committee’s bipartisan farm bill process is a reminder of how things should work in Washington — listening to the folks back home, working through issues with the other side of the aisle, then writing a good bill,” said committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., in a joint statement after the vote.

To floor by July Fourth

The legislation now heads to the full U.S. Senate for consideration. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who sits on the ag committee but is rarely able to attend due to leadership responsibilities, made a rare appearance during the committee’s meeting to lend his support, but also to push his personal interest in industrial hemp. The Senate farm bill includes a provision to remove industrial hemp (not the same thing as marijuana) from a list of controlled substances, making it legal for farmers to grow and sell the crop.

In his opening remarks, McConnell vowed to bring the farm bill to the Senate floor before the Fourth of July.

“I’m proud to support this bill before us today,” he added. “It can deliver much needed certainty for farmers.”

Few changes from 2012 farm bill

The Senate bill makes very few substantive changes to the 2012 farm bill.

The current dairy Margin Protection Program, which has had little participation, is renamed “Dairy Risk Coverage.” It adds coverage levels of $8.50 and $9, the discount for small producers (under 2 million pounds) is increased, and is funded with an additional $100 million.

Following the vote, U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, who serves on the Senate Ag Committee, hosted a conference call with the media.

“This bipartisan bill is good for farmers, good for families, good for taxpayers, good for jobs, and good for Lake Erie,” said Brown, who was joined on the call by Dr. Cathann Kress, dean of The Ohio State University’s College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences.

ARC still out of farm bill

Brown worked with Sens. John Thune, R-S.D., and Chuck Grassley, to add an amendment to more equitably distribute commodity program payments, but could not work out language details or garner enough support prior to markup. It may be introduced on the floor, Brown said.

Both Brown and Thune referenced that 77 percent of all base acres in the U.S. are enrolled in ARC, or the Agriculture Risk Coverage, which provides both price protection and protection for production losses. The ARC amendment would cap reference prices at either their current level or no more than the 10-year average price for a commodity.

Conservation title of farm bill

Brown also worked with Grassley and Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and Pennsylvania Democrat Bob Casey to push reform of several conservation programs, such as restricting the types of land that can be enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program and prioritizing cover crops and crop rotations within the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP).

Some payments within the Environmental Quality Incentive Program, or EQIP, would also be reserved for beginning farmers, or for practices that protect drinking water.

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