Farm Bill: Implementation of the farm bill begins
“Two years ago, in February 2017 in Manhattan, Kans., the journey began toward a new farm bill,” said Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kans.). “It started the way we should legislate. We listened to more than 90 witnesses that day from around the country.”
Thousands of public comments followed as the Senate process continued, and Roberts traveled across the country “to hear directly from growers.”
Roberts commented, “My good friend Barry Flinchbaugh from Kansas State University told me, ‘You just sit on the wagon tongue with farmers and listen to what we need or don’t need,’ and that’s what we did.”
During a Feb. 5 forum, hosted by The Farm Foundation, Roberts was a member of a panel discussing implementation of the 2018 Farm Bill, called the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018.
“The 2018 Farm Bill provides much certainty and predictability to all farmers in all regions and all crops, as promised,” he added. “This was not the time for a revolutionary farm bill. This is the time – given the period that we’re in, the uncertainties we face and the prices we see – to provide certainty and predictability.”
With the primary goal to get a bill that provided certainty done on time, the conference committee resolved the conflicts between the House and Senate while maintaining as many provisions as possible.
“That inclusive approach is why that bill got stronger bipartisan support in the conference, and 87 aye votes is the most ever seen for a farm bill in the U.S. Senate,” Roberts added. “This farm bill meets the needs of producers in all region and all crops.”
Roberts noted in the commodity titles, the bill makes improvements to both Price Loss Coverage (PLC) and the Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) programs, while providing opportunities to change those decisions.
“The farm bill also requires a nationwide PLC update and nationwide crop insurance data as the primary source for ARC county yields,” he said.
Base acres and future program eligibility are maintained, as well, he continued.
“The ability to plan for the market, not the government, is still one of the remaining components of Freedom to Farm from the 1996 bill,” Roberts commented. “Additionally, this farm bill strengthens and improves the crop insurance program and directs the Risk Management Agency to further crop insurance by researching and developing policies for quality loss, grain sorghum, limited irrigation and efficient irrigation practices.”
“The conservation title maintained the core voluntary conservation programs farmers and ranchers use to improve their productivity and address natural resources concern,” Roberts said.
Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) principles were maintained after the Senate committee heard continued support for the program, which also increased funding to over $2 billion annually.
At the same time, the bill focuses on program integrity and common-sense investments to strengthen nutrition programs and ensure the long-term success of people who need assistance.
“I know there was a lot of talk about the nutrition title,” Roberts noted. “In the Senate version, we took a comprehensive approach, came in the back door and used different language. We thought the food title was a real improvement. We ended with a program that was favorable.”
Trade promotion and research programs were also promoted in the bill, and Roberts commented feeding the U.S. is a national security issue, which means producers must be empowered to grow and produce more with fewer resources.
“That takes the government providing tools and getting out of producers’ way,” he said. “The 2018 Farm Bill signed by the president accomplishes what we set out to do – provide certainty and predictability.”
With a farm bill in place, Roberts noted the next steps involve implementation of the bill.
“We are going to continue working closely together to implement the bill,” he said.
USDA Deputy Secretary Steve Censky noted USDA provides a vital role in implementing the farm bill.
“We’re really excited to be implementing a new farm bill and a farm bill that really does provide the certainty and predictability farmers need, the investment in research that keeps agriculture a global leader,” Censky said. “From our standpoint at USDA, we’re going to be moving as quickly as prudently as we can to implement it.”
The agriculture industry, said Censky, who really depend on a farm bill, are anxiously awaiting implementation to serve the farmers and ranchers who utilize the bill.
He continued, “We have created a Farm Bill Implementation Working Group at USDA that includes representative from each of our mission areas and agencies to look to see how we can best implement the bill.”
USDA is utilizing a Farm Bill Implementation Tracker, which breaks every farm bill provision into steps necessary for implementation anda timeline to achieve their goals.
Tasks included in implementation are wide-ranging and may require technology developments, public notices and more.
“Some provisions of the farm bill are almost self-implementing because the provisions are very clear and there are almost no decisions that have to be made surrounding those,” Censky explained. “Other provisions, however, Congress has authorized us to take certain action, but there are certain policy divisions that have to be made to implement that.”
He added, “We have really a big job to do as we move forward.”
To continue a trend of public involvement, Censky said USDA will look for input from producers through a series of listening sessions.
“We want to hear from stakeholders as we implement the farm bill,” he explained. “We have charged each of our mission areas to hold a listening session and invite various stakeholders in so we can hear from them.”
Though implementation of the farm bill came to an abrupt halt during government shutdown, Censky said, “We don’t plan on using the shutdown as an excuse on why we aren’t able to implement the farm bill on a timely basis because we know how important it is to all of our constituents.”
Saige Albert is managing editor of the Wyoming Livestock Roundup. Send comments on this article to firstname.lastname@example.org.