2019 Farm Bill is ‘good news’

Some didn’t think it would happen this soon, but the United States Congress has managed to pull together enough bipartisan support to pass an $867 billion farm bill.

The U.S. House of Representatives approved the bill with a 386-47 vote, which allocated billions of dollars in subsidies to farmers, boosted markets and legalized hemp. It did, however, reject stricter limits on food stamps. The U.S. Senate passed the legislation in an 87-13 vote.

Farmers were waiting with bated breath for the farm bill to provide them with much needed support after they had endured a huge drop in commodity prices because of the trade dispute with China.

“The passage of the 2019 farm bill is good news because it provides a strong safety net for farmers and ranchers, who need the dependability and certainty this legislation affords,” said U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue in a statement.

But Iowa’s U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) voted against the bill, along with 12 other Republicans. Every Senate Democrat, however, supported it.

Grassley’s biggest issue was with the loopholes pertaining to farm subsidies that he said were expanded.

In a conference call with reporters, Grassley emphasized that federal farm payments need to provide a limited safety net to help farmers “weather the storms of natural disasters and the unpredictability of commodity markets.”

“Federal farm payments should not be manipulated to help corporate farming operations get bigger and bigger at taxpayer expense,” he said. “Iowa farmers tell me they want to earn their prosperity from the marketplace, not the federal treasury. As a taxpayer watchdog and outspoken advocate for the family farm, I worked to shut off the federal spigot to unlimited farm payments and enact reasonable, enforceable payment caps during debate on the last two farm bills.”

In 2014, Grassley helped pushed through an amendment that was approved by both houses of Congress to limit the perceived abuses of Title 1 subsidies, but it was stripped during final negotiations. Five years later, he proposed it again. It was first adopted by the Senate and would have restricted the number of non-farmers eligible for $125,000 in farm payments or $250,000 if they are married.

“As a lifelong family farmer, I know it takes a combination of sweat equity and financial equity to keep a farming operation productive and profitable,” Grassley said. “As far as I’m concerned, recipients cashing subsidy checks from the federal treasury ought to have farm dirt underneath their fingernails to qualify. To my disgust, the final version of the 2018 farm bill once again failed to include my payment limit reforms. Even worse, it expands eligibility to include nieces, nephews and first cousins. Make no mistake; big operators will hire attorneys to structure their farming operation to maximize federal payments that effectively undermine the integrity of the safety net.”

“Contrary to arguments made by opponents of my amendment, expanding eligibility is not a magic solution to help beginning farmers get started.”

He argued that it will expand loopholes for big operators, allowing them to harvest more cash from the U.S. treasury.

“I have never had a single young or beginning farmer tell me that the way to help them get started is by handing out more money to the largest farmers,” he said. “Congress needs to get serious about overspending. This farm bill missed an opportunity to do just that.”

Grassley said for years, “the top 10 percent of farmers has received more than 70 percent of farm payments from the federal government.”

“Enough is enough,” he said. “Expanding eligibility will only create hurdles for beginning farmers and expand loopholes that add to the debt and taxpayer burden. For these reasons, I voted no on the 2018 farm bill.”

Dave Struthers, a farmer from rural Collins, appreciated the passage of several key items.

“The development of the foot and mouth disease vaccine bank is a tremendous accomplishment for the livestock industry in the U.S.,” he said. “The changes to the ARC and PLC insurance programs will make the crop insurance programs much more equitable to farmers that have crop ground in multiple counties. I am thankful to Congress for passing this in a bipartisan manner.”

Iowa Corn Growers Association President Curt Mether said the organization was pleased that there weren’t any cuts made to the current crop insurance program and the CSP remained intact.

“ICGA also appreciates the Market Access Program (MAP) and Foreign Market Development (FMD) trade programs will be funded at full levels for the next five years — a huge win for Iowa corn farmers as these fundamental programs support the promotion of corn in all forms in international markets,” Mether said in a statement. “The Genomes to Phenomes Initiative has been included in the bill as it is essential for Iowa corn farmers in developing new varieties allowing the potential for higher yields. All of these programs are crucial to the success of Iowa’s corn growers and we thank our grower members for your efforts in urging lawmakers to reach a deal before the new year.”

Iowa Soybean Association President Lindsay Greiner said the legislation provides “much needed risk management tools for farmers so they remain competitive amidst a distressed agriculture economy.”

“It also comes at a crucial time for farmers who are facing a prolonged period of poor market conditions, extreme weather and an ongoing trade dispute,” Greiner said. “Simply put, its signing by the president will provide some added certainty that an extension of the 2014 bill would not.”

The National Pork Producers Council praised Senate and House lawmakers for approving the 2018 farm bill.

“Obviously, the farm bill is extremely important to American agriculture,” said NPPC President Jim Heimerl, from Ohio. “The 2018 bill is particularly good for livestock agriculture because it includes funds that will help protect our animals, our food supply and our economy from foreign animal diseases.”

National Cattlemen’s Beef Association President Kevin Kester was thrilled that the foot and mouth disease vaccine bank will be authorized and funded.

The most controversial component of the farm bill revolved around SNAP, or the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

The House Republicans’ version would have required states to force work requirements for food stamps upon older workers aged 49 to 59, as well as upon parents with children ages six to 12. The farm bill does include new changes to SNAP, mainly restricting recipients from receiving food stamp benefits in several states.

The farm bill also provides permanent funding for farmers markets and local food programs, extended research funds to organic farming projects and set aside money for organizations working to train the next generation of farmers. The conversation stewardship program remained intact.

Lastly, the farm bill legalizes the production of hemp.

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