Political dissension over what should be in the next farm bill leaped higher with the U.S. House Committee on Agriculture's proposal introduced Thursday. In brief, the Agricultural and Nutrition Act of 2018 introduced by Ag Committee Chair Michael Conaway, R-Texas, aimed to meet the Congressional Budget Office baseline — $112 billion less than for the 2014 Farm Bill. That meant consolidating programs such as the Conservation Stewardship Program into the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, capping enrollment of Conservation Reserve Program acres and scaling down those payments.
As reported in Likelihood of 2014 Farm Bill extension grows, plenty of dissension was anticipated over several of Conaway’s proposals. One concerned how the mandatory work requirement feature for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program might be carried out, as well as lack of adequate funding for state training since states would administer the SNAP changes.
Here are some, not all, key provisions in the Commodities, Conservation, Trade, SNAP and Credit titles:
Title 1 — Commodities
• Adjusts (reduces) conservation reserve acres, except for certain double-cropped acres.
• Payment acres continue at 85%.
• Requires a one-time, irrevocable election to obtain price loss or ag risk insurance coverage.
• Continues nonrecourse commodity loans along with conservation compliance.
• Adds upland cotton, with a loan rate for seed cotton at $0.25 a pound.
• Allows dairy operations to participate in the dairy risk management and livestock gross margin programs, but not on the same production.
• Sets a price formula for determining the highest use classification for Class I skim milk.
• Repeals the dairy product donation program.
• Amends total commodity payment limitations on a person or a legal entity to $125,000.
• Revises definition of family member to include first cousins, nieces and nephews.
• Creates a new definition of “qualified pass through entity” to ensure payment limits are applied to either the individual or entity, depending on where taxable revenue is recognized.
Title 2 — Conservation
• Reauthorizes the conservation reserve program, and repeals the conservation security and conservation stewardship programs.
• Substantially increases the CRP acreage enrollment cap and grassland contracts.
• Removes the wildlife buffer acreage ratio requirement for farmable wetlands, and removes the prohibition of their commercial use.
• Allows grazing on farmable wetlands for limited management purposes.
• Reduces conservation establishment cost-sharing payments to no more than 40%, and reduces to 25% on seed costs.
• Limits CRP rental payment to 80% of established local rental rates, with a 15% reduction for first re-enrollment and 10% thereafter.
• Requires states to limit Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program cost-sharing to 50% of agreements.
• Allows the transition of enrolled conservation acres to beginning farmer or rancher buyers of enrolled acreage, to prepare the land for crop use. Also extends the entry time for organic certification, and ensures technical and financial assistance to assist transitioning enrolled acreage through a conservation plan.
• Allows expiring CRP contract acres to enter into Environmental Quality Incentives Program contracts in the final year.
• Makes precision conservation management planning, cover crops and resource conserving crop rotations eligible for EQIP.
• Authorizes new EQIP stewardship contracts of 5- to 10-year terms for practices addressing local priority resource concerns.
• Authorizes up to $25 million of EQIP funds annually for multi-year on-farm conservation innovation technology trials by producers.
• Conservation Security Program would be repealed, while EQIP funding would ratchet higher each year through 2023.
• Except for CRP, no less than 10% of Title 2 funds would be reserved for collaborative focus on community water systems with increased incentives and higher payment rates for practices with environmental benefits.
• Makes $250 million of mandatory money available each fiscal year to carry out Regional Conservation Partnerships.
Title 3 — Trade
• Creates an International Market Development Program by consolidating Market Access, Foreign Market Development Cooperator, Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops and Emerging Markets programs.
Title 4 — SNAP
• Requires individuals age 18 to 59 to work, participate in employment training or a work program for a minimum of 20 hours a week.
• Excludes individuals who are caretakers of a dependent child under 6 years of age, or of an incapacitated person.
• Establishes a $120-million annual pilot project for authorized retail food stores to provide up to 25% reimbursement of bonuses to participating SNAP households, based on household purchases of fruits, vegetables and milk.
• Provides $60 million annual funding to establish a Farm-to-Food-Bank fund through which $20 million is distributed to states to procure excess fresh fruits and vegetables grown in the state or surrounding region for food banks.
Title 5 — Credit
• Expands eligibility for direct farm ownership loans by adding a list of criteria that reduces necessary experience requirements.
• Increases maximum allowable indebtedness for guaranteed farm ownership and operating loans to $1.75 million.
Remember, the road to passage involves getting separate bills to the floors of the House and Senate. Differences must be worked out in joint committee before final passage. Then it’s ready for the president’s signature. That’s a long road, with plenty of political fights and lobbying along the way.