Where We Stand on the Farm Bill: Six Points From Joy Philippi

The House failed to pass its version of the Farm Bill, so we can expect to see further modifications, says Joy Philippi, Pork’s Washington insider. Here are 6 points to consider. ( Farm Journal )

House Agriculture Committee chairman Mike Conaway and committee staffers are laser focused on securing enough GOP votes to pass H.R. 2, the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018.

The Democratic opposition to the overhaul of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program was only one hurdle to be cleared. Conservative members of Congress could also prevent the bill from clearing the house floor unless there are across-the-board cuts to crop insurance and commodity program payments.  

Conservative groups including The Club for Growth, Heritage Action and several others sent a letter to Members of Congress reinforcing their opposition to the bill. In that letter, groups said the farm bill promotes farmer dependence on federal handouts instead of empowering them to succeed on their own.

The bill, as passed out of the committee, had no support from Democrats. Farm-state Dems are encouraging their colleagues to refrain from offering any amendments to the existing bill.  

The current GOP majority is enough to pass the bill, on the floor if conservative members vote along with their colleagues.

policySenate will be Bi-Partisan

Capitol Hill agriculture policy experts say a draft bill released by the Senate Ag Committee will be bipartisan. The chairman’s mark-up was most likely drafted with input from both sides of the aisle. 

Chairman Pat Roberts of Kansas and ranking member, Debbie Stabenow of Michigan reassured their constituents and agricultural leaders their committee’s draft would have input from both Republicans and Democrats.

hempIndustrial Hemp Production in the Farm Bill?

As expected, there will be differences between the upper and lower chamber farm bill proposals. Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell stated in a recent interview he expects language in the 2018 bill to support hemp production in the U.S.

At the present time, all hemp used for industrial purposes in the U.S. is imported.   Several members of Congress have expressed support to allowing the production of induction hemp in the U.S. 

If legislation is approved, it is expected that USDA would administer the program on the federal level, while state departments of agriculture and local law enforcement agencies would work together on local oversight of the program.

The demand for industrial-grade hemp continues to grow across North America.  Presently the fiber is used in a variety of commercial products, including paper, textiles, clothing, plastics, bio-fuel, food and animal feed. 

Members of Congress and others that support industrial hemp production say the approval will offer another opportunity for on-farm revenue and create jobs to support the production of hemp products.

internetBroadband Legislation 

The Senate commerce committee passed out the Precision Agriculture Connectivity Act of 2018 last month.  The bill sponsored by Mississippi Senator Roger Wicker and Senator Ay Klobuchar of Minnesota creates a task force to focus on the connectivity and technology needs of modern farmers. 

Many areas of the U.S. have no broadband service in their fields, farms and ranches. Federal Communications Commission statistics indicate that 39% of rural Americans lack access to 25Mbps/3 Mbps.

Today’s farmers and ranchers rely on technology to gather data including precision planting, water use, crop protection products and nutrient management. The sponsors of the bill recognized that access to adequate broadband service would increase productivity and efficiency at a time when farmers must watch every penny to survive.

Access to adequate broadband speeds is key to sending the data to be processed and evaluated in data centers. Producers also need adequate broadband access to review the recommendations and at time use remote connections to calibrate equipment in the fields.

The bill most likely will be funded through the administration’s infrastructure plan.

tradeInternational Trade

U.S. trade officials still believe North American Free Trade Agreement talks will be completed in the near future and a new agreement will be sent to Congress for approval in 2018. A few agriculture trade specialists speculate that for this to happen, the discussion will need to wrap up by the end of June.

Some experts are a bit unsure that the new agreement can be fully evaluated by Congress before the mid-term elections in November. If that should happen it could put the approval process in the hands of a lame duck Congress.

The White House delayed the pending tariffs on imports of aluminum and steel from Canada, Mexico and the European Union for 30 days. This action came after the EU had developed a list of retaliatory tariffs unless steel and aluminum tariffs were delayed.

If no resolution is reached and the Trump administration’s proposed tariffs are enacted, U.S. agriculture, especially pork, will be the first to suffer from any retaliatory actions from the EU.

After the Trump administration trade delegation returned from talks in China in May, early reports of some relief for U.S. soybean exports may not materialize. 

Earlier the White House promised that U.S. farmers and ranchers would be compensated for losses if agreements couldn’t be made to maintain existing world markets for their products.  

USDA officials have said Commodity Credit Corporation (CCC) funds could be made available for a market loss program for agriculture products.  If those funds are not sufficient to cover the lost income, it is possible Congress will need to consider an agriculture supplemental funding bill.

USDAUSDA staffing

The nomination of Mindy Brashear to the position of USDA Undersecretary for Food Safety was announced in early May. Brashear was most recently the director of the Texas Tech International Center for Food Industry Excellence.  

Ken Barbic was sworn in as the assistant secretary for Congressional Relations at the USDA. He previously was with Western Growers, where he advocated on a number of issues including: immigration reform, impact of healthcare reform on seasonal agriculture, tax reform legislation, and the need to open international markets for U.S. agriculture.

Assisting the president as Secretary Perdue staffs his administration continues to place regular business on hold while hearings are being conducted. 

2019 Appropriations

Both the Senate and the House of Representatives’ Appropriations Committees and subcommittees will continue to host hearings to review 2019 funding proposals.