House Agriculture Committee chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, officially released his farm bill proposal Thursday, and it appears that he’s okay with alienating his Democrat colleagues. There are a handful of notable “wins” for agriculture, yet overall it is predominantly business as usual for many of the top-of-mind issues for farmers.
The House will mark up its bill on April 18 and from there it’s yet to be determined whether it has enough Republican votes to get it passed in the House. Meanwhile, the Senate ag leaders said there are weeks away from introducing their own bipartisan bill.
Earlier in the week, Conaway’s counterpart, committee ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., said he had six weeks of “negotiations” with majority staff to try to fix the nutrition title in a way that would find Democrat support. Instead, the final package has attached work requirements to SNAP participation for able-bodied adults.
Peterson also has concerns on how a farm bill supported only by Republicans will pan out on the floor for many of those controversial amendments on payment limits, sugar, dairy and crop insurance policy.
“If we get a situation where we lose sugar or crop insurance on the floor, the bill will be dead. I’m not sure it will be conferenced,” Peterson said. He also warned that if or when a more palatable farm bill does come to the floor, it might be even easier for those same votes to go against those harmful policy changes.
TITLE 1 CHANGES: In Title 1, the farm bill offers a one-time election for the Average Crop Revenue program or the Price Loss Coverage program. It also updates the county payment to be based off of Risk Management Agency data, as the hope is to address some of the differential payments seen across county lines, Conaway said.
LIVESTOCK ASSISTANCE: The bill maintains livestock disaster programs with modest adjustments, according to a summary of the bill. The Margin Protection Program has been renamed the Dairy Risk Management (DRM) program, and the first 5 million lb. of milk production on a dairy are eligible for higher coverage levels at lower premiums. Milk production not covered under DRM would be fully eligible for a comparable crop insurance policy. Finally, feed costs were studied to ensure accuracy in the DRM, and Class I milk calculations will be adjusted to help dairy farmers better manage risk in the futures market.
CONSERVATION: Peterson had sought an increase in CRP acres, and Conaway’s bill offers this, with a cap up 29 million acres, up from the cap of 24 million acres in the last farm bill. This is done by reducing rental rates to 80% and further reducing rates for re-enrollment acres. However, the largest working lands program – the Conservation Stewardship Program – is zeroed out.
Center for Rural Affairs Policy Associate Anna Johnson said, “Hundreds of farmers from around the Midwest have shared with us how important Conservation Stewardship Program is to their operations and stewardship efforts. Ending the program, along with the more than $7 billion in proposed cuts to other working lands conservation programs, would strike a serious blow to farmers’ and ranchers’ abilities to better steward their soil and water.”
TRADE: The bill would bring several trade programs under a new umbrella to be called International Market Development Programs, which includes the Market Access Program (MAP), the Foreign Market Development (FMD) Program, the Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops (TASC) Program and the Emerging Markets Program (EMP). With a $255 million funding level, the new single umbrella offers a permanent baseline for trade-specific programs and provides USDA with no less than $200 million for MAP, no less than $34.5 million for FMD, $10 million for EMP and $9 million for TASC.
ANIMAL DISEASE: The agriculture panel’s Farm Bill calls for first-year mandatory funding of $150 million for a Foot-and-Mouth Disease (FMD) 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 5-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. Livestock groups plan to urge 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.
NUTRITION TITLE: “If they can’t work with me, I don’t know who they can work with,” Peterson said. “If they would get real on the food stamp stuff, I think we’d be able to work this out and get this done. What they’re doing is not going to fly.”
After 23 hearings in the House on the nutrition title, Peterson said not a single thing recommended in those hearings was included in the nutrition title changes. He said he could see 25-26 Democrats on the floor coming behind him for support of needed changes to the nutrition title.