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Conference report on the 2018 Farm Bill released

Photo by Dustin Hoffmann

Late Monday night the Conference Committee Report on the 2018 Farm Bill was made public, and we got to see our first looks at the completed bill.  It has been a long road for this bill to get to this point. However, it still has a fair amount of distance to travel and not much time in which to do it.

Here are some of the highlights of the completed conference report, courtesy of House Committee staffers.

  • The Price Loss Coverage (PLC) effective reference price provision from the House version of the bill was included in the Conference report. The base levels will remain the same. However, it could be raised if there is a sizeable increase in the five-year moving average levels.
  • The Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) portion of the bill included changes from the Senate version of the Bill, with a few tweaks. The current “plug rate” is 70%. The Senate version of the Bill called for a rate of 75%. The Conference Committee upped this even further to 80%. There will also be provisions for subdividing large counties in ARC calculations. This will be helpful when you see drastic fluctuations in crop conditions from one side of a county to another. However, this only applies to the 25 largest counties.
  • Farmers will have the option of switching between ARC and PLC in 2019. There were also be similar switches available in 2021, 2022, and 2023.
  • Acres that are not producing a crop or forage will not be allowed to remain as base acres in ARC or PLC. Those producers who have been doing this in the past are being encouraged to move those acres into the Conservation Stewardship Program or return those acres to production.
  • There was an overhaul for dairy producers. The current Farm Bill raised many concerns with producers. The new Dairy Margin Coverage program will increase maximum coverage from eight dollars per hundredweight to $9.50. It will also have lower premiums, which will benefit smaller dairy operations. Larger producers would have a catastrophic loss option available. Producers can also receive a discount in premiums if they lock in their coverage for five years.
  • CSP will remain as a stand-alone bill. However, it had its funding cut drastically to fund other titles and increase ARC and PLC payments to producers who are losing their non-production base. The House version of the bill had called for rolling the CSP program into the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQuIP). CSP saw its funding cut by 800 million dollars, while EQuIP saw its funding increased by 275 million dollars.
  • There will be an increase to Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acres. The increase will be 3 million acres, bringing the total available acres to 27 million. However, the increase will be offset by lower CRP payments. This rate will go below the average rental rate. This is an effort to make it less attractive for producers to put functional acres into CRP, which has caused environmentally sensitive acres to be forced into production because of a lack of availability.
  • A large push had also been made for animal disease vaccine banks and funding. Funding was provided at $150 million over the five-year term of the bill. Equating to $30 million per year.

House Ag Committee Chairman Micheal Conaway (R-TX 11th) said, “America’s farmers and ranchers are weathering the fifth year of severe recession, so passing a farm bill this week that strengthens the farm safety net is vitally important. I am grateful to the President, Secretary Perdue and my leadership for standing fast for the hard-working farm and ranch families that clothe and feed us. I also appreciate the members of the conference committee for bringing this process one step closer to completion.”

House Ranking Member and presumed incoming Committee Chairman, Collin Peterson (D-MN 7th) said, “This bill is a strong start to addressing the issues our producers are facing right now, particularly our dairy farmers. The bill’s new provisions will offer more flexible coverage for lower cost when dairy farmers need it most and provide producers with more tools to manage their risk. It also invests $300 million in the prevention and response for animal pests and disease. More broadly, the bill invests in research, outreach to beginning & underserved producers, local and organic food production, bioenergy, and access to new markets. It also addresses broadband, farm stress and mental health issues, and the opioid epidemic in rural areas. It’s the product of strong bipartisan work in both the House and the Senate, and it’s something I’m proud to encourage folks to vote for.”

Senate Ag Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) says, “The 2018 Farm Bill is our opportunity to make the American food and agriculture systems work more efficiently. I’m pleased to say we have done just that in this conference report. We started this journey nearly two years ago. Since then, the Senate Agriculture Committee has held dozens of hearings, listened to more than 90 witnesses, and received thousands of public comments. As promised, this farm bill provides much-needed certainty and predictability for all producers – of all crops – across all regions across the country. I thank my counterparts in the Senate and House for coming to – and staying at – the table to reach a bipartisan, bicameral agreement for rural America.”

Senate Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) said, “By working across the aisle, we overcame many differences to deliver a strong, bipartisan farm bill for our farmers, families, and rural communities. The 2018 Farm Bill is a good bill for our farmers and everyone who eats. Working together, we continued to expand the diversity of our agricultural economy, maintained a strong food and farm safety net, created new opportunities in our small towns and rural communities, and made significant investments in land and water conservation. Now is not the time to rest on our laurels – it’s time to get the bill across the finish line as soon as possible. I urge my colleagues to support this bill.”

Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue is calling on both houses to pass the farm bill immediately. He is also encouraging President Trump to get the Bill signed quickly and provide stability for America’s farmers.

Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley’s amendment on “subsidy payment reforms” was not included in the final conference report.

The House is scheduled to vote on the Bill as early as Thursday. The Senate schedule is a little different. The bill could reach the floor there early next week.

If you are feeling ambitious, the full 800+ page conference report on the agreed upon 2018 Farm Bill can be read here.