Reactions mixed over draft farm bill | TheFencePost.com

Reactions mixed over draft farm bill

-The Hagstrom Report

The Republican-leaning American Farm Bureau Federation and the Democratic-leaning National Farmers Union and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition issued differing reactions to the farm bill proposal released by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas, on Thursday.

American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall said the bill assures America's farmers and ranchers "that congressional agriculture leaders recognize the economic challenges our producers face."

"Farm Bureau is pleased to see meaningful adjustments to the current farm bill's provisions for dairy and the Agriculture Risk Coverage program, as well as new provisions for cotton farmers included in the commodity title.

"We also appreciate improvements proposed for federal crop insurance. There are additional provisions aimed at improving conservation programs, the specialty crops program and research and rural development programs that will benefit our members across the nation.

"We urge Congress to complete a new farm bill soon that promotes food security, a strong farm economy and the thousands of jobs that are supported by America's agricultural productivity."

National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said he appreciates the hard work of the committee, but that "congressional leadership has severely hamstrung the committee's ability to address the six-year, 50 percent decline in the farm economy."

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"While they've shown little regard for spending and deficits this Congress, they've failed to provide adequate resources for food and agriculture at a time of grave financial strain on family farmers and ranchers. This is irresponsible and harmful.

"Family farmers deserve to be a priority. They deserve to have a safety net that addresses current economic conditions. They deserve strong programs that help them improve the long-term sustainability of their farms. And they deserve access to fair and diverse markets. The final version of this farm bill must reflect the growing challenges family farmers face."

The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition said, "The Conaway draft is clearly not a serious effort toward a bipartisan farm bill."

"By torpedoing decades of work by American farmers and advocates to advance sustainable agriculture and food systems, the chairman has given this bill little chance of passing as written on the House floor.

"We are deeply disappointed with the direction that the chairman has taken the country's most important package of food and farm legislation. By eliminating all funding for innovative programs like the Value-Added Producer Grants Program, Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program and Organic Certification Cost-Share, the bill shuts out key segments of agriculture, including farmers and business owners taking advantage of fast-growing markets for locally and regionally produced food and value-added products.

"The bill includes no meaningful limitations on subsidy payments to mega-farms, and makes no attempt to close existing loopholes that allow the nation's largest farms to collect unlimited subsidies.

"It also shifts the focus of Farm Service Agency loans from small and mid-sized farms and beginning farmers to larger farms and CAFOs (Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations) by raising loan caps.

"Among the most egregious proposals in the chairman's bill is the wholesale elimination of the country's largest conservation program — the Conservation Stewardship Program.

"More than 70 million acres across the country are currently enrolled in CSP, a program which offers producers unparalleled support and resources to achieve advanced whole-farm stewardship. The elimination of CSP means fewer options for voluntary conservation, more pollution and less resilient farms and ranches.

"The claim that this bill rolls the best features of CSP into the Environmental Quality Incentives Program does not pass the laugh test — in fact, this bill does not include any of the most important stewardship features of CSP.

"Adding insult to injury, the draft bill cuts working lands conservation program funding by 20 percent or $7 billion, an amount greater than the cut to the total conservation title in the last farm bill. This represents a wholesale retreat from past efforts to assist farmers and ranchers to farm profitably and sustainably, and sets back the evolution of farm bill conservation by decades.

"While the bright spots in the chairman's bill are few and far between, we applaud the committee for including increased funding for the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative, and the Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentives program.

"However, we are very concerned that increases to nutrition incentive programs seem to be paid for out of harmful cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

"We are also pleased that the chairman's bill reinvests some funding in the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program and the Outreach and Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers and Ranchers Program (also known as the 2501 Program).

"However, the funding levels provided fall far below what is needed for each program. Moreover, while we are pleased with a number of important policy changes made to BFRDP, we are concerned that the changes made to 2501 will dilute the focus and effectiveness of the program.

"While beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers are given some additional support through improvements to the Whole Farm Revenue Protection program, the bill neglects making much-needed changes to improve access to the larger federal crop insurance program that would truly strengthen the farm safety net."

American Soybean Association President John Heisdorffer said "We need to get this farm bill done this year to provide long-term certainty for farmers, given lingering questions on trade and the shaky state of the farm economy." Heisdorffer noted that House Agriculture Committee Democrats do not support the bill and said he hopes Conaway "will continue to work to negotiate to get the needed support to pass a bill that can conference with the Senate and become law in 2018.

"We also appreciate the chairman for including authorization for the Foreign Market Development program, as well as funding for FMD and the Market Access Program. ASA will continue to press for the doubled funding we originally requested for these programs, which farmers across the country leverage to expand our overseas markets."

Crop insurers praise bill

The farm bill draft includes some expansion of crop insurance and a coalition of crop insurance groups said "We applaud the committee's continued support of crop insurance, and we look forward to working with Chairman (Michael) Conaway (R-Texas), ranking member [Collin] Peterson (D-Minn.) and the rest of the committee to get a farm bill with a strong crop insurance title across the finish line."

"One of the top takeaways from the committee's hearings and listening sessions over the last three years is that farmers and ranchers count crop insurance as their number one risk management tool. In the midst of a depressed farm economy, we are pleased to see that Chairman Conaway and the House Agriculture Committee are committed to providing long-term certainty for our producers."

The coalition consists of the American Association of Crop Insurers, the National Crop Insurance Services, the Crop Insurance Reinsurance Bureau, the Crop Insurance Professionals Association, the Independent Insurance Agents & Brokers of America, and the National Association of Professional Insurance Agents.

Sugar growers, users issue opposing views

The American Sugar Alliance, which represents cane and beet growers, praised the farm bill draft for maintaining the sugar program, while the Alliance for Fair Sugar Policy, which represents sugar-using industries, faulted it for making no changes to the program.

Neither group commented on the statement by House Agriculture Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., that the proposed changes to SNAP will make it difficult for him to convince urban and suburban Democrats to vote against changes to the sugar program.

The American Sugar Alliance, on its Facebook page, said "We are very pleased that HR 2, the Agriculture and Nutrition Act, introduced today by House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, maintains a vital U.S. sugar policy that operates at no cost to taxpayers."

"America's sugar beet farmers, sugarcane farmers and sugar factory workers are grateful for the continued bipartisan support that U.S. sugar policy has received in the committee and urge its inclusion in the final farm bill, which we hope congress will enact this year," ASA said.

The Alliance for Fair Sugar Policy said in a statement Thursday, "For families whose livelihoods depend on the more than 600,000 American manufacturing jobs in sugar-using industries in every state across the country, the farm bill released today is a major disappointment."

"That's because it lacks critical modernization of the U.S. sugar program, which is supported by a broad coalition of consumer, business and environmental groups and Republicans and Democrats in the House and Senate. It is the only commodity subsidy program that has not been modernized in the past 80 years."

Dairy industries still want more changes

National Milk Producers Federation President and CEO Jim Mulhern said "The bill introduced today includes several changes we have advocated for, particularly in improving coverage levels and providing greater coverage flexibility for dairy producers."

"It also includes important language on price risk management, which NMPF has worked on closely alongside the International Dairy Foods Association. As the farm bill moves forward, we will continue to work with our allies in Congress on a bipartisan, bicameral basis to further strengthen the dairy safety net for producers of all sizes."

The International Dairy Foods Association, which represents manufacturers and processors, also noted the collaboration with NMPF, and said "We're hopeful that our collaborative efforts will help to smooth the passage of a farm bill that includes provisions designed to enhance risk management options for dairy processors and producers and establish a retailer incentive program in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, that includes fluid milk."

"In addition, we commend House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., for introducing legislation this week that would allow dairy producers, cooperatives and processors to better manage the price risk for milk.

"Congressman Peterson also has worked to help the dairy industry, and his bill demonstrates solid support for the shared solutions offered by IDFA and NMPF."

Research community disappointed by House bill draft

The Supporters of Agricultural Research Foundation (SoAR) noted that the bill included adjustments to the research title — including modifications to matching grant requirements and an increase in indirect costs — but did not include an increase in the authorizations for major grant-making programs at the Agriculture Department, and that there have not been major changes in them since 2008.

"We appreciate that the bill, as released, has helped to remove barriers that keep some outstanding scientists from participating in USDA research," said SoAR President Thomas Grumbly.

"But we also think more needs to be done now in funding new agricultural research that will meet the needs of our children and grandchildren, in a world that will have 2.5 billion more people in only 30 years."

Grumbly noted that in October a broad coalition of 66 organizations called for the agency's entire research, education, and extension budget to be doubled to $6 billion.

"Now, as China has overtaken us in ag research, the 2018 farm bill provides an opportunity to reassert our leadership."

Sally Rockey, executive director of the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, the public-private organization set up in the 2014 farm bill, said the group "is disappointed to see a House farm bill that does not include reauthorization and full funding for FFAR."

"In a time of challenging budget constraints, the FFAR dollar-for-dollar matching model delivers huge value to the American taxpayer," Rockey said.

"FFAR funds science-based solutions to support producers and the agricultural economy, safeguard our national security and improve health through food. Although this is not the ideal starting point, FFAR will continue to work closely with the Senate and House Agriculture Committees and our stakeholders as farm bill negotiations continue."

Conservation, water groups issue variety of responses

In addition to the views of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition covered above, other conservation groups also issued statements on the bill.

Environmental Working Group Senior Vice President Craig Cox — "Every farm bill is an opportunity to meet some of America's biggest challenges, such as reducing hunger, promoting healthy diets, supporting family farmers and reducing farm pollution."

"But the 2018 House farm bill largely misses these opportunities. Instead it creates new barriers to anti-hunger assistance, fails to close farm subsidy loopholes and weakens important environmental safeguards.

"It does include several promising reforms in the conservation title that will help address the serious public health threat farm pollution poses. But these reforms are overshadowed by other provisions that increase hunger and roll back public health protections."

Melinda Cep, senior director for policy, food and markets at the World Wildlife Fund said the group "will be evaluating any potential changes to environmental protections and looking for better alignment of conservation in the crop insurance program."

The American Water Works Association said the bill's "efforts to protect drinking water sources through the upcoming farm bill reauthorization paid off yesterday when the first version of the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 included all of the association's key recommendations.

"Our priorities of protecting drinking water sources throughout the conservation title; expanding opportunities for the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to work with water systems to prioritize activities in each state; increasing benefits for farmers who employ practices that benefit downstream water quality; and ensuring at least 10 percent of conservation program funds are focused on the protection of drinking water have all been included in the chairman's mark."

Electric co-ops pleased with broadband provisions

National Rural Electric Cooperative Association CEO Jim Matheson — "The House legislation would create a broadband grant program at USDA to better target rural areas that need it most and create workable solutions to bridge the digital divide."

"The proposal also provides support for other rural development programs that help electric co-ops modernize the electric grid while undertaking innovative, cost-effective energy projects."

NASDA says bill addresses its priorities

The National Association of State Departments of Agriculture — "We are especially appreciative for the committee's work on a host of NASDA priorities including the establishment of a new animal health initiative and improvements to existing programs such as the Specialty Crop Block Grant program."

"NASDA's farm bill priorities focus on creating new tools for animal disease coordination and prevention, as well as ensuring investment in programs for foreign and domestic marketing for farmers and value added food producers, invasive species, research, conservation, and food safety."

Pork, beef groups praise bill for vaccine bank

The National Pork Producers Council and the National Cattlemen's Beef Association praised the House farm bill draft for including provisions to help with animal disease.

NPPC praised the inclusion of language establishing and funding a vaccine bank to combat an outbreak of Foot-and-Mouth Disease.

NPPC noted that the bill includes first-year mandatory funding of $150 million for the vaccine bank, $70 million in block grants to the states for disease prevention and $30 million for the National Animal Health Laboratory Network (NAHLN), which provides diagnostic support to assist in managing diseases in the United States.

For the other years of the five-year farm bill, there's $30 million in mandatory funding for state block grants and $20 million to be used at the Agriculture secretary's discretion for the vaccine bank, the NAHLN and the states.

NPPC is urging lawmakers to provide annual funding of $150 million for the vaccine bank, $70 million for state block grants and $30 million for the NAHLN over the life of the farm bill.

National Cattlemen's Beef Association President Kevin Kester said, "We appreciate the committee authorizing the foot-and-mouth disease vaccine bank, which is vitally important to the safety of our industry."

"However, we were hopeful for full funding levels, which this bill does not provide in years two through five. We'll continue fighting to secure that funding through all possible avenues."