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House OK's farm bill; now it's Senate's turn

• Updated Jun 21, 2018 at 5:03 PM

WASHINGTON — The U.S. House of Representatives this afternoon passed its version of the Farm Bill by just two votes.

The legislation now goes to the U.S. Senate.

U.S. Rep. Bob Latta (R-Bowling Green) was among the 213 who voted yes to the H.R. 2, the Agriculture and Nutrition Act. Another 211 representatives voted no.

H.R. 2, also known as the Farm Bill, supports the region’s farmers by keeping in place important crop insurance programs that allow farmers to purchase policies that protect them against financial ruin brought by disease, drought or other catastrophic events.

In addition, the bill prioritizes working-lands conservation by retaining the best features of the Conservation Stewardship Program and reauthorizing the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. By streamlining the two programs, H.R. 2 enables significant investment in emerging conservation practices like the use of cover crops. The bill also included an amendment encouraging partnership at the watershed level between nonpoint sources and regulated point sources to advance goals of the Water Pollution Control Act.

Included in the legislation was an amendment offered by Latta to improve connectivity for the use of precision agriculture. That amendment directs the Federal Communications Commission to form a task force in conjunction with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to evaluate the best ways to meet the technological needs of precision agriculture. Precision agriculture is the use of cutting-edge innovation like self-driving machinery, the Internet of Things, drones, and satellite imagery to more efficiently and effectively farm.

“Farmers in Northwest and West Central Ohio help feed the world, and the Agriculture and Nutrition Act provides them with a number of important tools to help them be successful,” Latta said. “While it is known as the Farm Bill, this legislation really benefits all of us. In our area, the reauthorization and streamlining of critical conservation programs will play a pivotal role in our efforts to protect Lake Erie. I’m also glad that my Precision Agriculture amendment was included so that we can take a collaborative approach to overcome obstacles that prevent farmers from fully implementing cutting-edge technology that can help them do their jobs in a way that is safer, more efficient, and better for the environment.”

Other policy changes in H.R. 2 include reforms to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that would promote self-sufficiency and independence for recipients, instead of dependence on the government. In the Agriculture and Nutrition Act, work-capable individuals between the ages of 18 and 59 will be required to work or participate in a job training in order to receive benefits. Exceptions are made for caregivers of children that are six or younger, recipients that are pregnant, or those that are mentally ill or physically disabled.

According to a Foundation for Government Accountability poll, 83 percent of voters support work requirements for SNAP. H.R. 2 also includes fraud prevention provisions to ensure that recipients can’t claim benefits in more than one state at the same time.

A number of organizations released statements showing their approval of the legislation. 

Officials with the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance (SCFBA) said the organization “appreciates the efforts of Chairman Conaway and members of the House of Representatives for passing H.R. 2, the Agriculture and Nutrition Act, in a close 213-211 vote.”

The SCFBA, which represents 120 specialty crop organizations across the United States, said it was “pleased to see that many of the specialty crop provisions that were included in the 2014 Farm Bill have remained part of H.R. 2.”

Among those “key specialty crop priorities,” according to the SCFBA, are the following:

• Specialty Crop Block Grants ($85 million/year)

• Specialty Crop Research Initiative ($80 million/year)

• Trade Programs including MAP ($200 million/year) and TASC ($9 million/year)

• Pest and Disease Programs ($75 million/year) and National Clean Plant Network ($5 million/year)

• Food Insecurity and Nutrition Incentive Program (FINI) (Increased to $285 million over five years)

“These funding commitments demonstrate the growing importance of the specialty crop industry in American agriculture, and the Alliance is grateful for their inclusion in the House legislation,” the SCFBA said in its statement. “However, more work needs to be done to support an industry that accounts for 30 percent to 40 percent of U.S. crop value. More than 120 organizations have come together to enhance the competitiveness of specialty crop agriculture and improve the health of Americans. Together, we will continue to seek the support deserved of our growers, who work every day to provide better access to higher quality and more affordable fruits and vegetables.”

The Independent Community Bankers of America (ICBA) also approve of the House’s passage of H.R. 2.

“ICBA and the nation’s community bankers appreciate that the full House was able to pass the farm bill today,” ICBA President and CEO Rebeca Romero Rainey said. “Although there are sharp partisan differences regarding nutrition and other programs, we believe that a bipartisan compromise can eventually be reached by Congress as the House and Senate bills move forward.

“Such an outcome is necessary to ensure producers and their lenders have a degree of price protection and predictability for the next five years. Producers and other stakeholders in our rural communities need the safety net that a farm bill provides given the sharp drop in net farm income in recent years and the uncertainties over trade issues.

“ICBA has urged Congress to maintain commodity price protections and a strong crop insurance program,” Romero Rainey continued. “ICBA also supports the bill’s increase for guaranteed farm loan limits to $1.75 million from $1.39 million, in addition to other important programs, and opposes granting the Farm Credit System new lending powers.”

The U.S. House of Representatives successfully delivered desperately-needed welfare reform with the passage of the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018, according to the Foundation for Government Accountability (FGA).

In its prepared statement, the FGA commended lawmakers for their commitment to reforms that will lift millions of Americans out of welfare dependency.

“These reforms will expand work requirements helping millions of able-bodied Americans move from welfare to work and become self-sufficient. In addition, the reforms will close loopholes within the food stamp program that will restore the integrity of the program and ensure that resources are available for the truly needy.

“With nearly seven million open jobs across the nation and a near record-low unemployment rate, there has never been a better time to begin to move the millions of able-bodied adults out of dependency through commonsense work requirements.”

Tarren Bradgon, CEO and president of FGA, said: “Today, lawmakers within the House of Representatives gave millions of Americans the opportunity to experience the freedom and power of work by passing the commonsense welfare reforms within the House Farm Bill. These reforms will close loopholes within the food stamp program that will restore the integrity of the program and ensure that resources are available for the truly needy. Members of the House should be applauded for their commitment to move able-bodied Americans back to work.”

North Dakota farmer Kevin Skunes, president of the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA), said this: “Today’s vote is a big step forward to seeing a new farm bill this year. The House farm bill maintains a robust crop insurance program, ensuring it continues to be a viable risk management tool for farmers across the country. Now we will be looking toward the U.S. Senate and possible efforts to further strengthen the farm safety net, making it more equitable for our nation’s corn growers, as they bring the Senate Agriculture Committee’s farm bill to the floor.”

The Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 would replace the current Agricultural Act of 2014 when it expires at the end of September.

American Soybean Association (ASA) President John Heisdorffer, a soybean farmers from Keota, Iowa, applauded the successful effort to reconsider the House bill, saying: “Farmers need the long-term certainty and stability that passing a new five-year farm bill will provide. Right now, the economic future of our industry is clouded by low crop prices and farm income, and by volatility in foreign markets. We call on the Senate to follow suit and pass its version of the farm bill next week so Congress can complete the 2018 farm bill in July.”

Heisdorffer added: “With key programs including crop insurance, farm support programs, and export promotion funding for market development programs on the table, ASA urges Congressional leaders to continue pushing forward for final approval.”

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