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Congress gears up for new farm bill

Legislative components come into place with proposals on ARC fixes, call for more research funding and ag energy funds.

House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, said this week that the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) has sped up its analysis of farm bill provisions that the committee is considering. He told reporters that the committee is still on track to bring out a bill before the end of the year or early 2018. 

Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., have expressed a similar desire as Conaway to get a new farm bill across the finish line without the drama that was seen during passage of the last farm bill, which had to be extended more than a year.

However, the reality of getting it passed in 2018 looks less and less likely.

The House will probably get its bill done early in 2018, said Informa policy analyst Roger Bernard, while the Senate likely will take longer.

“I think the election looms large in terms of what may or may not happen,” he added.

With Stabenow up for re-election, if the farm bill process starts going in a direction Democrats do not prefer, they could drag things out or pull back support and use it as an issue in the 2018 midterm elections.

“It boils down to whether Democrats want an issue or a farm bill,” Bernard added.

ARC fixes

A bipartisan Senate proposal intended to address complaints about payment disparities in the Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) program was introduced this week. The bill is sponsored by Senators Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D.

It does not make any changes in the formula for ARC revenue guarantees to increase the likelihood of payments, but the legislation would make the changes that many producers have been requesting. According to Senate aids, the bill should not increase the cost of the program.

The proposed legislation directs USDA to use more widely-available data from the Risk Management Agency as the first choice in yield calculations, calculates safety net payments based on the county where a farm’s is physically located, and provides the FSA state committee discretion to adjust yield data estimates to help reduce variations in yields and payments between neighboring counties. 

The bill’s introduction was welcomed by eight major commodity groups including the American Farm Bureau Federation, National Farmers Union along with soybean, corn, wheat, sunflower, canola and dry pea and lentil groups.

More research funding

broad coalition of 63 organizations involved in almost every facet of the U.S. agricultural sector said USDA’s research, education, and extension budget should be doubled to $6 billion during the five-year life of the 2018 Farm Bill. The coalition submitted its request in a letter to House and Senate agriculture leadership.

The coalition’s letter to Congress outlines 10 specific policy recommendations, including funding recommendations aimed at new investments in public food and agriculture research and extension. It also presents policy recommendations focused on improving the coordination, oversight, efficiency, competitiveness, and responsiveness of our nation’s public agricultural research, education, and extension system.

“The need to drastically improve the federal agricultural research budget has created a consensus far broader than anyone thought possible,” said Michael Heller, Maryland livestock producer, founder of the Maryland Grazers Network, and a member of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition. “Based on my long involvement with sustainable agriculture research and in helping to train the next generation of American farmers, I know firsthand how important it is for the next farm bill to boost funding for research title programs to help get the USDA research budget off its current plateau and climbing again, quickly.”

More than 100 organizations and companies also asked for continued support for the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR) in the next Farm Bill. The groups said the initial investment of $200 million in mandatory funding through the Commodity Credit Corporation has been instrumental in helping the U.S. agricultural research enterprise foster continued innovation.

FFAR matches every one of its public dollars with non-federal funding, meaning it delivers huge value for American taxpayers by partnering with companies, foundations, universities, trade associations, and philanthropies to solve some of the most crucial issues in food and agriculture. As a result, the U.S. government’s $200 million investment in FFAR will deliver more than $400 million in scientific programming to benefit farmers and our food system.

Ag energy

Agriculture Energy Coalition released an analysis in September which recommends continued, steady investment (i.e., reasonable mandatory spending) and improvements in a limited number of essential Farm Bill programs.

This analysis highlights the successes of programs like the Biorefinery, Renewable Chemical and Biobased Product Manufacturing Assistance (Section 9003), the Biomass Crop Assistance Program, BioPreferred and REAP, as well as makes recommendations for the next Farm Bill. House and Senate appropriators have proposed massive cuts to a number of these programs.



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