Lyons, Neb. - Today, the Senate Agriculture Committee released its draft of the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018, commonly known as the farm bill.
Center for Rural Affairs Policy Associate Anna Johnson said the released draft provides needed support for farmers, ranchers, and rural communities; however, the decision to remove funding for conservation and the entrepreneurial programs that rural Americans rely on must be addressed.
"We appreciate that this bill strengthens the underlying policy for conservation programs,” Johnson said. “Unfortunately, these changes are undercut by a decrease in funding for working lands conservation."
Much of the bill’s content to strengthen the underlying policy for conservation programs is derived from the Give our Resources the Opportunity to Work (GROW) Act, introduced by Sens. Ernst (R-IA), Grassley (R-IA), Brown (D-OH), and Casey (D-PA).
“We like to see that many elements of the GROW Act are included,” Johnson said. “These policy proposals, such as improving coordination between the Conservation Stewardship Program and the Environmental Quality Incentive Program, will help strengthen these programs. We applaud the committee for working across party lines to advance these proposals.”
"Rural development receives similar treatment,” Johnson continued. “The committee draft identifies efficiencies by combining several programs. But, these programs are made less effective by damaging spending cuts."
The draft supports beginning, socially-disadvantaged, and veteran farmers and ranchers; on-farm value-added production; local foods; and farmers markets. However, it cuts permanent funding for the Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program, which helps establish businesses and create jobs in rural communities.
“This program plays a critical role in helping individuals start new business in rural towns across the nation,” Johnson said.
Crop insurance and structure
"On crop insurance, the bill makes needed improvements that will better recognize the role of conservation in risk management," Johnson said. "This is a missed opportunity for advocates of structural reform. The bill is missing caps on crop insurance and fails to limit subsidy payments to those who are truly actively engaged in farming."
Improvements to crop insurance include better access for diversified operations and beginning farmers, and a stronger link between crop insurance and conservation.
The draft also does not limit subsidies for crop insurance premiums, and Johnson calls on the Senate to enact these reforms.
“As this bill moves forward through the Senate Agriculture Committee and to the Senate, we will work to strengthen and improve its support of conservation, beginning farmers, and rural communities,” Johnson said.
The current farm bill expires Sept. 30, 2018. The House of Representatives failed to pass its draft, H.R. 2, in a vote on May 18. Another vote is scheduled in the House for June 22.