House ag committee approves 2018 farm bill
WASHINGTON – Reaction to the approval the 2018 farm bill by the House Committee on Agriculture today was mixed.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said it closely aligns with the farm bill principles he release in January.
“I commend Chairman Conaway and the House Committee on Agriculture for passing a comprehensive farm bill out of the committee today,” Perdue said. “The bill closely aligns with the farm bill Principles released by USDA in January and is nearly identical to the legislation first introduced last week. We are encouraged that the committee heard the voices of their constituents, who want to preserve and enhance programs contained in the 2014 farm bill, as I learned in my conversations with farmers, ranchers, foresters and producers in 35 states in the last 12 months. As the bill heads to the floor, I hope the house recognizes the long-term certainty it provides for America’s farmers, just as it preserves nutrition programs for people who need help feeding themselves and their families. USDA stands ready to provide technical assistance as the bill progresses in the house, and we look forward to working with our friends in the senate as well. As Republicans and Democrats have farm interests in their own districts and states, we are hopeful that the 2018 farm bill can move forward in a bipartisan manner.”
As anticipated the National Farmers Union said the bill fails to meet the needs of family farmers and ranchers.
NFU opposes the legislation as it is currently written, as it fails to provide an adequate safety net to family farmers and consumers, fails to support the long-term sustainability of family farms and ranches and fails to ensure fair and diverse markets for farmers and ranchers. In a series of recommendations released today, NFU urged House members to make significant improvements on the floor prior to passing the bill.
“This bill is wholly inadequate for providing family farmers with the resources they need to endure the worst decline in the farm economy in decades,” said NFU President Roger Johnson. “Congressional leadership’s directive to withhold any additional support has hamstrung the committee’s ability to address the six-year, 50 percent drop in net farm income. This bill lacks the improvements needed to provide sufficient farmer and consumer safety nets, it upends programs that improve sustainability, and it removes programs that aid the growth of fair and diverse markets for family farmers. Farmers Union is also deeply disappointed in the partisan nature of the house farm bill deliberations thus far. We urge members of Congress to make significant improvements to the bill prior to its passage.”
In its list of recommendations, NFU urged House members to significantly improve the farm safety net to reflect the current state of the farm economy. It noted the safety net needs to be improved to keep family farmers in business during down market cycles, yet the current version of the House Farm Bill does not provide enough support to help family farmers and ranchers make ends meet.
“Farmers need higher PLC reference prices for commodities that have been underwater for years,” said NFU. “Dairy farmers need both price supports and a mechanism that manages our nation’s oversupply of milk. At the same time, these programs should be implemented responsibly by capping payments and directing them solely to family farmers.”
NFU also suggested the bill needs to ensure credit availability for family farmers and ranchers, whereas the bill currently does nothing to increase loan authority for FSA’s overall loan portfolio. And to ensure a strong consumer nutrition safety net, the NFU recommended the farm bill should maintain funding levels for consumer benefits under nutrition programs. “Unfortunately, the multitude of changes proposed in the bill would compromise food security for working families who currently use SNAP while adding to needless bureaucracy,” said NFU.
NFU’s second major recommendation is to promote the long-term sustainability of family farms and ranches. The organization urged the house to provide incentive-based working lands programs, whereas the current version of the farm bill cuts $5 billion from these programs over the next decade, and it eliminates the Conservation Stewardship Program. NFU also called for funding to energy programs to be restored, as farm bill energy programs help family farmers and ranchers lower their environmental footprint, reduce their energy usage and improve their bottom lines.
Finally, NFU urged House members to ensure fair and diverse markets for family farmers.
The current version of the house farm bill eliminates mandatory funding for key programs that are critical in promoting access to local, regional and specialty markets. “The Farmers’ Market and Local Foods Promotion Program and Value Added Producer Grants improve market opportunities and increase the farmer’s share of the consumer dollar. At the same time, the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program and the Agricultural Marketing Assistance program make it easier for farmers to transition into organic agriculture. Congress must recognize the value of the programs referenced above and restore mandatory funding,” NFU said.
The house farm bill also lacks provisions to ensure the fair treatment of family farmers and ranchers in the exceptionally consolidated markets they operate in. NFU recommended the house include a title that promotes competition in the marketplace, enhances antitrust enforcement, and establishes protections from unfair and deceptive practices in the contract poultry and livestock sectors.
Meanwhile, the American Farm Bureau Federation said the news was great for farmers and ranchers.
“The 2018 Farm Bill is ready for debate and amendments a mere six days after its introduction,” said AFBF President Zippy Duvall. “A vote by the full House of Representatives is expected to soon follow. This is great news for farmers and ranchers everywhere. HR 2 — The Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 — takes us one step closer to bringing certainty to families who face the toughest farm economy in more than a decade.
“We look forward to working with members of both the house and senate to complete work on a bipartisan, bicameral bill that can be signed into law by the president before the current law expires.”