Farm policy, Farm Bill heads to Trump for signature
Washington, D.C. – The lame duck Congress pushed forward on the 2019 Farm Bill, despite challenges at the onset. On Dec. 12, the House of Representatives sent an $867 billion, 807-page farm bill to President Trump’s desk on a 369-47 vote just one day after the legislation passed in the Senate 87-13.
“The passage of the 2019 Farm Bill is good news because it provides a strong safety net for farmers and ranchers, who need the dependability and certainty this legislation affords,” commented U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue. “This Farm Bill will help producers make decisions about the future, while also investing in important agricultural research and supporting trade programs to bolster exports.”
Perdue, House Agriculture Committee Chairman K. Michael Conaway (R-Texas), Wyoming’s congressional delegation and agriculture industry organizations alike all praised the passage of the bills, noting it offers opportunities for farmers and ranchers.
“I commend Congress for bringing the farm bill across the finish line and am encouraging President Trump to sign it,” Perdue added.
“There is no piece of federal legislation that affects the psyche of rural America more than the farm bill,” Conaway commented, “House Republicans refused to stop fighting for rural America, and we’ve approved a bill that sets us on a better path – for farmers and ranchers, for rural communities and for the American consumer.”
Inside the bill
Conaway commented that the bill strengthens farm safety nets, improves conservation initiatives, expands exports and enhances the integrity of nutrition programs.
“I’ve maintained from the beginning that this farm bill ought to be about standing up for America’s farm and ranch families who are going through some very hard times,” he explained. “And we have kept faith with that commitment. Farm country and rural America will be better off under this farm bill than they were before.”
In comments on the floor of the House, Conaway noted the bill maintains federal crop insurance programs and strengthens the farm bill safety net.
“We strengthened key conservation initiatives, specially the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP),” he said. “These highly successful conservation initiatives serve as a prime example of how voluntary, incentive-based conservation beats burdensome, arbitrary, and costly Washington regulations every time.”
Trade promotion incentives, including full funding of the Market Access Program and Foreign Market Development Program, will help the U.S. to be competitive around the world, and Conaway said in-kind food assistance programs were also maintained.
“We make some extremely important investments elsewhere in this farm bill,” he continued. “We increase individual Farm Service Agency loan limits which have not been updated in 16 years. We increase agricultural research funding. We provide Secretary Perdue with the tools to effectively combat the opioid epidemic and to expand high quality broadband service to all of rural America. We increase investment in new crop uses and in specialty crops, including fruits and vegetables.”
Finally, the bill also introduces new measures to strengthen animal disease prevention by introducing a foot-and-mouth disease vaccine bank.
With all its positive aspects, Perdue noted there were several “missed opportunities” for the agriculture industry in the bill.
“While I feel there were missed opportunities in forest management and in improving work requirements for certain Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients, this bill does include several helpful provisions and we will continue to build upon these through our authorities.”
Because of sharp disagreement between Republicans and Democrats on SNAP work requirements, those provisions were largely abandoned in the conference version.
Conaway noted the House made the adjustments they could while also maintaining support from Democrats.
“We make commonsense reforms that improve program integrity and work requirements under SNAP, including involving governors in work requirement waivers so there is political accountability and by reducing state allowances for able-bodied adults without dependents,” he described. “We require states to adopt case management practices to help move SNAP beneficiaries from welfare to work, and we eliminate $480 million in bonuses we pay to states for simply doing their job.”
Conaway commented, “These and other reforms will build on the success we have had in moving more than 9 million people off of SNAP rolls and into work over the past five years.”
In the realm of forest management, insect and disease categorical exclusions to remove hazardous fuel loads have been expanded, and states, local and tribal authorities have been empowered to remove timber.
“These reforms are important, but they are only a start in what needs to be done,” Conaway emphasized. “Ultimately, I had to make a decision between making as many inroads on reform in these areas as I could or allowing farmers and ranchers to be held hostage. Faced with that choice, I chose the route of getting this farm bill done.”
Saige Albert, managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup, compiled this article from numerous press releases, House of Representatives transcripts and farm bill resources online. Send comments on this article to email@example.com.