Senate prepares to pass its version of 2018 Farm Bill


Issue Date: June 20, 2018
By Christine Souza

Encompassing a broad array of farm policy in the areas of nutrition, commodities, trade, research, rural development and more, a five-year farm bill before the U.S. Senate contains programs and policies that would benefit California farmers and ranchers, according to California Farm Bureau Federation policy analysts.

The Senate Agriculture Committee adopted its draft of the 2018 Farm Bill last week on a bipartisan, 20-1 vote. Known as the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, the bill serves as the primary source of federal authority and funding for agricultural and nutrition programs.

CFBF President Jamie Johansson said the Senate farm bill contains "many positive provisions," including investments in mechanization research to address continued agricultural employee shortages.

"California's ongoing labor crisis demands both immediate and long-term solutions," Johansson said. "Mechanization research is a positive step toward acknowledging long-term agricultural employment needs, and offers opportunities for researchers and technologists to develop solutions that will benefit farmers in the future."

Josh Rolph, CFBF federal policy manager, said California farmers and ranchers have been forced to fallow fields, plant less and, in some instances, leave crops unharvested due to a lack of available employees during the peak of season. (See related Comment)

The Senate bill's research title, Rolph said, prioritizes mechanization and automation for specialty crops. It also directs the U.S. agriculture secretary to identify programs that affect production or processing of specialty crops and that can be used to accelerate development and use of automation.

On dairy policy, the Senate bill rebrands the existing Dairy Margin Protection Program as the Dairy Risk Coverage Program and increases the top margin to $9 per hundredweight. CFBF legislative analyst Corinne Madison said the provision would give farmers the option to buy coverage to that point.

"Unfortunately, the Senate also increased the price of premiums for Tier 2 coverage, making the program even more expensive and infeasible for California producers," Madison said.

The dairy title would also create a milk donation program where, with approval from the agriculture secretary, a producer or processor could be reimbursed for donating fluid milk to outlets such as food banks. Madison said that "could help many California dairy farmers make ends meet when the fluid milk market is flooded, while simultaneously providing wholesome nutrition to people who may need it the most."

Other provisions related to animal agriculture include an Animal Disease Preparedness and Response Program, which Madison said would be welcomed by livestock producers.

The trade title of the Senate bill would merge the existing Market Access Program, Foreign Market Development Program and Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops into one program, and increase overall funding by $6 million.

Sara Neagu-Reed, CFBF federal legislative associate, described the increased resources and funding within the trade title as "very helpful and needed by California farmers and ranchers during ongoing trade disputes." (See story)

Under the conservation title, the Senate bill would continue the Conservation Innovation Grant program, which helps California farmers address air quality, as well as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Regional Conservation Partnership Program and Conservation Reserve Program. Rolph said CFBF will advocate for removal of an adjusted-gross-income threshold that would limit program participation among California farmers and ranchers.

Neagu-Reed said the bill also contains language that would benefit agriculture in and near urban areas.

"There's a lot of provisions in the Senate bill that are going to assist our farmers in the growing urban-suburban agricultural sectors, such as providing resources and funding to assist greenhouse operations," she said, adding that the bill also provides additional resources for organic agriculture programs.

The farm legislation next moves to the full Senate. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., said he intends to bring the bill to the Senate floor before the July 4 recess.

The House of Representatives failed to pass its version of the farm bill last month amid disagreements on immigration policies and nutrition programs. A second House vote is expected this week.

"We are continuing to monitor the farm bill negotiations," Rolph said. "We are working with our representatives on both sides of the aisle, who have a great interest in making sure that this is a bill that will work for California."

The existing farm bill will expire Sept. 30, and Rolph said failure to finalize a new bill by then could lead to an extension for the current law.

"We do not want to see that happen," he said. "Ideally, the Senate passes its bill by July 4, the two houses conference in July and then pass a final bill by Sept. 30."

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

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