All this discussion regarding the House Ag Committee’s failed attempt to pass their H.R. 2 Farm Bill draft has media outlets buzzing with speculation of, and anticipation for, the Senate Ag Committee’s own version. They are expected to release their version this month, with hopes of creating a bipartisan bill without any major reform to SNAP. The Senate has a goal of getting their bill on the president’s desk before the deadline of Sept. 30, much like the House committee’s goal.
With all this speculation, there are differing opinions on what their bill will, or should, look like. Here are a few things to expect when the Senate does release its own version of the draft.
Agri-Pulse spoke with a few Senate members regarding their proposals for the draft. “The ARC issue has been one of the thorniest for [Sen. Pat] Roberts to resolve. Committee members John Thune, R-S.D., and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, have introduced legislation that would make a series of improvements to the program and cap Price Loss Coverage program reference prices to offset the cost of an expected increase in ARC payments. Southern members of the committee, including John Boozman, D-Ark., have been pushing back against the proposal. Roberts has also been resistant to making significant changes in ARC and PLC, expressing concern that it would upset the political balance that the bill needs.”
Not only are they hoping to change the ARC, but also the Conservation Reserve Program as well. “Rules for the Conservation Reserve Program also were still under discussion. The House farm bill would increase the cap, now 24 million acres, to 29 million acres. The Senate committee, however, has been looking at a much smaller increase, perhaps to 25 million acres. … Roberts told Agri-Pulse that the larger increase sought by many wildlife groups was too costly. Two key differences with the House already appear clear. The Senate bill would keep the Conservation Stewardship Program in operation and contain an energy title to fund assistance for renewable energy, biorefinery projects and other priorities. The House bill would eliminate both CSP and the energy title and would provide no mandatory funding for energy programs.”
They plan is to do this with the GROW Act. This overhauls the Conservation Stewardship Program, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, and the CRP, all of which take about 90 percent of funding from the Conservation Title on the bill. According to American Agriculturalist, the GROW ACT:
- Directs USDA to enroll 4 million acres in CRP practices directly benefitting water quality.
- Establishes a new CLEAR (Clean Lakes, Estuaries, and Rivers) option within continuous CRP.
- Directs more resources to targeted, partial field practices improving water quality, such as riparian buffers and filter strips.
- Maintains annual enrollment for CSP and funding for EQIP.
- Levels the playing field for beginning farmers looking to access farmland by limiting general sign-up CRP rental rates.
- Promotes grazing and land conservation by expanding the CRP Grasslands Initiative to 3 million acres.
- Increases CSP incentives for cover crops and managed intensive rotational grazing.
- Helps young and beginning farmers access EQIP by providing additional dollars up front to help with cash flow.
- Makes most prime farmland and class I, II, and III land ineligible for CRP enrollment.
- Maintains CRP at 24 million acres and precludes whole farm enrollment.
- Limits how much county cropland can be enrolled in CRP.
- Directs USDA to submit a report on land access, tenure and transition.
Another goal they have in mind? Legalizing the use of hemp. American Agriculturalist spoke with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, who is working to remove hemp from the Controlled Substances Act and approve its use under the 2018 Farm Bill. “In the 2014 Farm Bill, McConnell had previously opened the gate to legalize state-run research and market development programs for industrial hemp. In 2017, 19 states had research or pilot projects underway, according to Vote Hemp, a non-profit advocacy group. Some 34 states had removed barriers to the R&D projects. Now we need to make industrial hemp production legal,” McConnell says. “And that’s what we intend to do in this year’s farm bill.”
The House Ag Committee has until June 22 to reconsider its draft version of the bill. In addition to the SNAP issue, there’s an immigration bill negotiation that is unrelated to H.R. 2 but is being used as leverage to pass the Farm Bill. Both house committees are seeking to get their versions passed and on the president’s desk by September, but without a bipartisan bill, that could prove to be challenging.
Markie Hageman is a senior, majoring in agribusiness, at Fort Hays State University. She is actively involved in her state Cattlemen’s Association, Young Farmers chapter, and National Cattlemen’s Beef Association. Follow her seriesexploring various parts of the next Farm Bill.