Farm Bill agreement passes Senate
By Alex Paton
The U.S. Senate has passed the Farm Bill conference report to the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018. By a final vote of 87-13, the bill will move on for approval from the House and the measure will then go to the President’s desk to be signed into law. U.S. Senator Roger Wicker and Cindy Hyde-Smith both voted in favor of the bill which will reauthorize federal agriculture and nutrition programs for five years.
The final bill includes Wicker’s “Precision Agriculture Connectivity Act,” which tasks the Department of Agriculture and the Federal Communications Commission with making broadband accessible to 95 percent of cropland and ranchland by 2025.
“Passage of this Farm Bill provides our farmers relief, certainty, and the tools to continue feeding the world,” Wicker said. “This legislation will help Mississippi farmers who have suffered this year because of unfair foreign trade practices abroad and difficult weather here at home. I am pleased this bill also prioritizes access to broadband by including my precision agriculture legislation. Farmers and ranchers need broadband access to manage their crops more efficiently through new internet-based technologies.”
Hyde-Smith, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, said the new Farm Bill will benefit Mississippi by offering greater certainty to the state’s agricultural sector, supporting agricultural research at universities, and promoting natural resources conservation.
“Mississippi farmers and ranchers continually deal with factors that can mean disaster, which is why they look for certainty and flexibility in farm programs,” said Hyde-Smith. “The 2018 Farm Bill has been written to set policies that can help producers remain productive despite threats posed by predatory trading practices or net farm income losses.”
The final bill includes four Hyde-Smith amendments, which were included in the Senate-passed bill. These provisions, which have no direct spending impact on the cost of the bill, will:
• Okhissa Lake – Direct the Secretary of Agriculture to transfer 150 acres around Okhissa Lake in Franklin County to the Scenic Rivers Development Alliance for rural economic development in Southwest Mississippi;
• Crop Insurance in Flood-prone Regions – Direct the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation to conduct research and development on more affordable crop insurance policies for cotton, soybeans and corn farmers within the Lower Mississippi Valley affected by frequent flooding;
• Chronic Wasting Disease – Prioritize chronic wasting disease research (CWD), which will assist land-grant universities like Mississippi State University and the MSU Extension Service to better understand and combat the spread of CWD;
• Health Forest Reserves – Reauthorize the Healthy Forests Reserve Program to help landowners restore, enhance, and protect forest ecosystems in order to promote the recovery of threatened and endangered species, and improve biodiversity.
“I’m proud that the final bill includes specific wins for Mississippi, which I worked to secure in the bill. Among these are provisions to support rural economic development, combat chronic wasting disease and affordable crop insurance for flood-prone areas,” said Hyde-Smith. “This bill is not perfect, but its overall benefits far outweigh its shortfalls.”
Important to Mississippi, the overall bill includes the following provisions:
• Farm Safety Net – Reauthorizes the Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC) programs through 2023.
• PLC Reference Prices – Maintains PLC program reference prices at current levels, with a provision allowing them to increase to better respond to market conditions.
• Marketing Loan Rates – Increases marketing loan rates by varying amounts per eligible commodity.
• Upland Cotton Program – Permanently extends and provides full baseline funding for the Economic Adjustment Assistance to Users of Upland Cotton Program (EAAP), which authorizes economic assistance to domestic users of upland cotton, such as textile mills in order to maintain a globally competitive textile industry.
• Environmental Quality Incentives Program – Reauthorizes and increases funding for the EQIP. Mississippi ranks second nationally in active and completed EQIP contracts.
• Conservation Stewardship Program – Reauthorizes and maintains CSP as a separate conservation program. In FY2017, the USDA obligated the most CSP funding nationally to Mississippi.
• Conservation Reserve Program – Expands CRP acreage enrollment from 24 million to 27 million acres.
• Delta Regional Authority – Reauthorizes the Delta Regional Authority, in addition to programs to assist rural communities with water and waste disposal systems.
• Rural Hospitals – Expands eligibility for certain loan programs that benefit Mississippi rural hospitals.
• Rural Broadband – Strengthens rural broadband and telemedicine services for rural America.
• Agriculture Research – Provides an increase of over $600 million in funding for ongoing agriculture research programs involving Mississippi universities and land-grant institutions.
• Nutrition – Makes improvements to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to increase program integrity and otherwise incentivizing work to move more recipients toward self-sufficiency.
• Chronic Wasting Disease – Provides $300 million in funding for animal disease prevention and management efforts.
• Opioid Addiction – Funds rural health projects to help Americans struggling with opioid addiction and other substance abuse disorders.