House moves forward with farm bill rewrite


Issue Date: April 18, 2018
By Christine Souza

A draft 2018 Farm Bill features many programs and provisions that could benefit California communities and people involved in agriculture, according to California Farm Bureau Federation analysts. The House Agriculture Committee is scheduled to mark up the bill this week, as Congress proceeds to update federal agricultural and nutrition policy.

The committee released the bill last week, titled H.R. 2, the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018. Observers say the bill could be brought to the House floor as early as next week. The Senate will likely release its version of the farm bill in May.

Noting that programs in the bill have the potential to benefit everyone in California, CFBF President Jamie Johansson welcomed the draft legislation's release, saying it marks a key milestone in updating the multi-year farm bill that expires Sept. 30.

"Although it's known as the farm bill, the legislation truly touches on everyone—first of all, because everyone eats, but also because of the conservation, research, trade and other programs it contains," Johansson said. "Representing farmers and ranchers in the nation's No. 1 farm state, Farm Bureau will advocate for programs of particular importance to California's diverse agricultural landscape."

As farmers throughout the state struggle to hire enough people to harvest crops, CFBF will seek increased research into technology to mechanize farming tasks, Johansson said.

"Agricultural innovation benefits not only farmers and their employees, but also people who work at California technology companies and universities seeking to make mechanization more practical," he said. "The farm bill also encourages development of new food and agricultural products that create new opportunities throughout the economy."

Johansson added that Farm Bureau will seek continued and enhanced commitment to farm bill programs that promote environmental stewardship.

"Current farm bill programs have helped farmers, ranchers and foresters promote air, water and soil health, and those programs should remain a priority," he said. "The new farm bill should also enhance programs to expand access to developing foreign markets. Those programs lead to jobs in rural California but also in urban settings such as ports, marketing firms and export companies."

CFBF Federal Policy Manager Josh Rolph said his team has been analyzing the 641 pages of the House bill. He pointed to the following components of the legislation:

• Commodities: Agriculture Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage programs would continue with some changes. The bill would allow yield updates if drought is experienced, allow adjustment of reference prices and prioritize use of Risk Management Agency data for the Agriculture Loss Coverage-County program. CFBF asked for changes to ARC-CO that were addressed in the legislation. The Milk Protection Program for dairy would be rebranded to the Dairy Risk Management Program, with some changes that Rolph said still do not meet the needs of California dairy farmers. 

  • Conservation: The bill includes a new requirement for the U.S. Department of Agriculture to promote water quality and quantity practices to protect drinking water, a concept Rolph said CFBF strongly supports. The Environmental Quality Incentives Program would be combined with the Conservation Stewardship Program. The bill would allow for controlled grazing on Conservation Reserve Program land.
  • Trade: Farm Bureau sought mandatory funding for the Market Access Program and the Foreign Market Development and Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops programs, which would occur in a new consolidated program known as the International Market Development Program.
  • Nutrition: Farm Bureau supported and achieved a change to the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable Program, which would allow inclusion of "canned, dried, frozen or pureed" products.
  • Credit: The State Agricultural Mediation program was included, which Rolph said CFBF supports.
  • Rural infrastructure and economic development: The bill would maintain programs that address rural broadband, a value-added program and rural water programs. Rolph said CFBF is advocating for a change to the definition of "rural" in federal law that would allow more California communities to qualify.
  • Research: As CFBF has requested, the bill includes mechanization research prioritization funding in the Specialty Crop Research Initiative and support for organic research. Funding was also included to benefit beginning farmers and ranchers.
  • Forestry: The bill includes reauthorization of the Healthy Forests Reserve Program, as CFBF requested, along with Good Neighbor Authority. Rolph said CFBF will continue to seek to amend federal law to allow the president to declare emergencies for insect or disease epidemics.
  • Horticulture: The Specialty Crop Block Grant Program would continue, along with the Plant Pest and Disease Program. The bill would increase funding for the National Organic Program from $15 million to $24 million during the bill's length, as CFBF supported. Rolph said CFBF will continue to advocate for inclusion of the National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program.
  • Crop insurance: Rolph said CFBF will continue to oppose caps or limits being applied to adjusted gross income for crop insurance premium assistance, and will oppose means testing and payment limitations for crop insurance. The bill would retain the Whole Farm Revenue Program as a pilot program, as CFBF requested.
  • Miscellaneous: CFBF supports the Animal Disease Preparedness and Response Program, which would create a national vaccine bank, support the National Animal Health Lab Network and a response program for infectious animal diseases.

Noting that CFBF developed farm bill priorities largely included in the House bill, Rolph said those advocacy efforts "made a real difference" to ensure better representation for California agriculture.

(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at csouza@cfbf.com.)

Permission for use is granted, however, credit must be made to the California Farm Bureau Federation when reprinting this item.