Summary Of The 2018 Farm Bill Markup
Senator Leahy (D-Vt.), senior member of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, Wednesday announced that the 2018 Farm Bill, the Agriculture Improvement Act, approved by the Senate Agriculture Committee today includes important victories for Vermont farmers, businesses and families.
Leahy said: “Every five year Farm Bill is important to Vermont families, farmers and to our state’s economy and natural beauty. I have worked hard to make sure that this bill reflects the values and priorities of Vermonters, with help for dairy farmers, food security funding for hungry children and families and rural development programs. This bill also includes important programs to protect and conserve environmental treasures in Vermont and around the country and I must thank Chairman Roberts and Ranking Member Stabenow for all of their hard work to produce this balanced and bipartisan bill.”
Leahy’s full opening statement at the Committee markup today can be found here. The Farm Bill next heads to the Senate Floor and must be approved by the House of Representatives and signed by the President before it becomes law. Highlights from the bill as reported out of the Agriculture Committee are below.
Dairy Risk Coverage - In February 2018, Senator Leahy led improvements to the Margin Protection Program (MPP) that were included in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018. These improvements included an immediate reopening of MPP signup so farmers could take advantage of the new meaningful levels of risk protection at more affordable rates. Vermont farmers who signed up for the program are already guaranteed MPP support payments for at least the first few months of this year.
As dairy farmers across the country continue to face difficulties and low prices, Senator Leahy recognizes the importance of providing and improving upon critical safety nets such as this one. The 2018 Farm Bill includes higher coverage level thresholds at $8.50 and $9.00, and thanks to Ranking Member Stabenow and Senator Leahy’s focus on small and mid-size farms the bill includes a 50% premium discount for farms with less than 2 million pounds of historic production and a 25% premium discount for farms with between 2 and 10 million pounds of production. These improvements should make the newly named Dairy Risk Coverage program even more affordable than the changes enacted in February and will make additional improvements to ensure the program works even better for Vermont’s family farmers. The House Farm Bill also makes changes to the dairy safety net, however it locks farmers in to their original signup level for the duration of the Farm Bill and did not offer the generous discounts contained in the Senate bill. The Agriculture Improvement Act also makes changes to aid Vermont’s medium and larger farmers access the program for some risk protection.
Dairy Product Donation Program - The Senate Farm Bill also overhauls the milk donation program established in the 2014 Farm Bill, and transforms it into a new program that would reimburse eligible dairy organizations for the costs of donating milk to incentivize donations rather than dumping milk during times of overproduction. Producers will have the opportunity to enter into an agreement with USDA to be reimbursed for donating eligible milk that is used as nutrition assistance for low-income individuals. This bill provides $5 million for this program in fiscal year 2019 and each fiscal year after. The House of Representatives version of the Farm Bill eliminates this donation program entirely.
Environmental Quality Incentives Program - The Senate draft of the Farm Bill includes improvements to the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) led by Senator Leahy. EQIP helps farmers prevent agricultural runoff, such as manure. Lake Champlain has been plagued by blue-green algae blooms, and EQIP helps farmers control the nitrogen and phosphorus runoff which contribute to these blooms. The program is extended through fiscal year 2023 and includes changes that will help improve EQIP practices and provide better understanding for how those practices lead to quality conservation outcomes.
The Agriculture Improvement Act, as approved by the Committee, also includes three amendments offered by Senator Leahy to the EQIP program. First, to allow farmers to prioritize implementation of their Comprehensive Nutrient Management Plan over the life of the Farm Bill and work to continue to make progress on the plan into a subsequent Farm Bill cycle. His second EQIP amendment raised the separate $80,000 payment limit for organic and transitioning-to-organic producers up to $160,000. The final Leahy EQIP amendment created a new grant opportunity under Conservation Innovation Grants (CIG) for conservation monitoring to help farmers interested in supporting conservation outcomes and information, these monitoring projects are now done under general EQIP, where it now unfairly counts against a farmer's payment limit.
Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) - Senator Leahy led changes in the 2018 Senate Farm Bill to increase the flexibility and add vital mandatory funding to ACEP. The 2014 Farm Bill combined the Farmland Protection Program and the Grassland Reserve Program with the Wetlands Reserve Program to create ACEP. The Agriculture Lands Easements (ALE) in ACEP operates through state and local partners to provide permanent protection for working agricultural lands and to promote agricultural viability for future generations and Vermont is a national leader in conserving farmland thanks to this important program. The final bill, as approved by the Committee, included an amendment offered by Senator Leahy to update the “permitted additional terms and conditions” for an ALE easement to ensure that states like Vermont are able to take additional steps to ensure that the land is staying in farmer ownership.
Regional Equity - The Senate Farm Bill maintains the Regional Equity Program which Senator Leahy initiated in the 2002 Farm Bill. This program brings greater conservation resources to Vermont and other Northeastern states. In the 2014 Farm Bill, changes were made to ensure that Vermont and small states received a fair distribution of USDA conservation funds. Unfortunately, the House of Representatives version of the bill eliminates this important small state minimum program entirely.
Conservation Compliance for Crop Insurance - This Farm Bill maintains important conservation compliance requirements for commodity producers who receive crop insurance. These requirements ensure that environmentally sensitive land such as highly erodible cropland, wetlands, and vulnerable lands that have never been farmed are protected. Most producers are already required to follow these compliance rules because of other USDA benefits they receive. In Vermont, dairy farmers receiving support have had to comply with conservation programs, leading to improved water quality and a reduction in environmental damage.
Regional Conservation Partnership Program - The Senate Farm Bill doubles the mandatory funding for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) to $200 million. The bill also makes critical reforms to focus on conservation outcomes, allow organizations to receive funding for outreach and technical assistance, and increase the allocation of funds going to state level and local conservation projects. The House of Representatives version of the bill does not include any of the Senate reforms.
Hunger Safety Net
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – Even as the economy has improved, too many Americans still struggle to put food on the table. For these families, nutrition assistance such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and emergency assistance programs are crucial.
In Vermont, recent surveys show that fourteen percent of children and 10 percent of all households are food insecure, leaving families relying on federal and state programs such as SNAP (renamed 3SquaresVT in Vermont), WIC and the federal School Lunch and Breakfast Programs.
The 2018 Senate Farm Bill maintains strong support for critical nutrition programs such as SNAP and does not contain the harmful cuts to benefits and eligibility we saw from the partisan House draft. The Senate bill builds upon successful workforce training programs particularly for those who are suffering from addiction and improves access to fresh fruit and vegetables for SNAP participants. The bill also makes it easier for farmer’s markets to accept SNAP benefits and promotes farm fresh food programs and local food banks.
Organics and Local Food
Organic Research - The 2018 Senate Farm Bill reauthorizes the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative and provides mandatory funding of $40 million for the first two years of the Farm Bill, increasing that level to $50 million by fiscal year 2022 and for each year after. This guarantees baseline funding in future Farm Bills for the important research being done to help our organic producers increase their production and reduce costs while adhering to the sustainable and ecosystem enriching values of the organic industry.
Organic Certification Cost-Share Program - Senator Leahy is pleased that this farm bill renews funding for the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program at $11.5 million per year after the House version of the bill eliminated the program completely. This program is critical in helping beginning organic farmers afford organic certification through USDA by providing producers with 75 percent, or up to $750, of the total certification cost. “Organic food is one of the fastest growing sectors of the agricultural economy. This program will keep it that way,” said Leahy.
Protecting the Organic Label - As the author of the 1990 Organic Farm Bill, Senator Leahy continues to lead the way on making the organic industry secure, trustworthy, and economically viable. Senator Leahy led efforts to increase the authorization for the National Organic Program to $16.5 million in fiscal year 2019 with increases each year up to $24 million in fiscal year 2023. This Farm Bill includes improvements to ensuring the integrity of the USDA organic seal by adding a documentation and traceability enhancement measure to help prevent fraudulent organic imports. In juxtaposition with the House Farm Bill, the Senate maintains rigorous standards for what products can be labeled as organic. The Farm Bill also establishes the Organic Agricultural Product Imports Interagency Working Group which will allow USDA and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection to work together to inspect organic imports and prevent the import of fraudulent organic products.
Organic Data Initiatives Program - The Senate Farm Bill reauthorizes the Organic Production and Market Data Initiatives through fiscal year 2023 and provides $5 million in mandatory one-time funding. This program maintains important organic data collection.
Local Food Program - The Farm Bill combines the Value-added Producer Grants Program and the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program to create a new Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP). Grants administered through this program would continue to support partnerships in planning and developing local and regional food systems that are well targeted to Vermont farmers and producers. This bill includes $60 million in mandatory funding for fiscal year 2019 and each year after and authorizes another $20 million to be appropriated each year. The House Farm Bill would eliminate the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program and the Value-added Producer Grants Program by eliminating their mandatory funding.
Specialty Crop Block Grants - The Senate Farm Bill reauthorizes the Specialty Crop Block Grants which enhance the competitiveness of specialty products by promoting local and regional farm and food system specialty crop development. These grants can be used to enhance state and regional marketing programs, direct to consumer and direct to store marketing, access to specialty crops for low-income consumers, food hubs and new farmer specialty crop development.
Promoting Maple Syrup Research and Marketing - The ACER Access and Development Program which provides grant money to support the domestic maple syrup industry was established in the 2014 Farm Bill and was extended to 2023 in the Senate Farm Bill. This program promotes research and education related to maple syrup production, natural resources sustainability in the maple syrup industry, market production of maple syrup and maple-sap products, and encourages private land owners to initiate or expand maple-sugaring. The House version of the Farm Bill neglected to reauthorize this important program that is working to support the maple industry in Vermont and around the country.
REAP Zones – Senator Leahy fought to continue the Rural Economic Area Partnership (REAP) Zone initiative that has been so successful in Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom. REAP Zones set up collaborative and citizen-led efforts to enhance economic development. This effort is a vibrant model for building a new rural economy that other rural areas are beginning to emulate. In 2016, the REAP Zone designation secured the Northeast Kingdom $6.7 million, which helped leverage an additional $12 million in general allocation funds for a total of $18.7 million to promote business, community development, affordable housing and investments in infrastructure. In FY17, the REAP Zone secured $5.5 million in federal investment in the Northeast Kingdom.
Reauthorization of the Northern Border Regional Commission -- The Northern Border Regional Commission was created in the 2008 Farm Bill through the advocacy of Senator Leahy. Since 2010, Vermont organizations have received more than $7.8 million to spur economic development and job growth in Vermont’s six northern-most counties and leveraged more than $10.5 million in matching funds for a total of $18 million in project economic and infrastructure projects. Thanks to an amendment offered by Senator Leahy, the final bill reauthorizes the Commission for five more years and includes key administrative improvements that will make the program more effective and efficient.
The reauthorization also establishes a capacity building grant to help states better support business retention and expansion, encourage job creation and workforce development, expand access to high-speed broadband and encourage initiatives that drive investments in transportation and other infrastructure. Senator Leahy has advocated for increased funding for the Commission in his role as Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, including $15 million in the FY19 Senate Appropriations Committee-passed Energy & Water Appropriations, and $2 million in the FY2019 Agriculture Appropriations Bill for a total of $17 million. These appropriations bill must be considered by the full Senate and House of Representatives and signed by the President.
State Rural Development Councils – Senator Leahy offered an amendment to continue the authorization for State Rural Development Councils (SRDCs) to ensure these effective and efficient councils will allow them to continue their important work of strengthening rural communities in Vermont and across the country. The Vermont Council on Rural Development has a 21 year history of working with communities to identify unique challenges, and craft innovative solutions to break down barriers to growth. This reauthorization will renew for five years the statutory authority, functions and authorization of appropriations for State Rural Development Councils. While SRDCs have not received funding in recent history, this farm bill authorizes $10 million in annual funding for that National Rural Development Partnership.
Hemp Farming - The Agriculture Improvement Act would expand upon previous hemp promotion programs by legalizing hemp as an agricultural commodity, removing it from the federal list of controlled substances. The bill allows states to regulate hemp, hemp growers to apply for grants from the USDA, and make hemp farmers eligible for crop insurance. In Vermont in 2018, there are 281 registered hemp producers and nearly 2,000 acres of hemp will be grown this year. This bill will be very important to so many Vermont farmers hoping to diversify and remain viable. The House Farm Bill does not address hemp agriculture and offers no help for those growers struggling to work with a commodity that is still federally illegal.
Agricultural Management Assistance (AMA) - Senator Leahy fought hard to maintain the AMA program to help producers develop sustainable practices that protect their farmland and ensure that the health of our shared water systems is protected. This type of program is especially important when major storms, such as Tropical Storm Irene, devastate a landscape, erode soil and spread contaminants into the water system. AMA will help lessen the toll of natural disasters like Irene. It is a program that will pay long-term dividends and greatly reduce future mitigation costs.
Non-Insured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) – The Agricultural Act reauthorizes Senator Leahy’s NAP “Buy Up” provision that was developed to patch the hole in the safety net for producers that are producing non-insurable crops, often fruits and vegetables. For those producers, the level of risk protection had not been sufficient under NAP, which only protects them from losses that could put them out of business. NAP was invaluable to Vermont producers after the devastating flooding of Tropical Strom Irene, but it would have been ineffective for less cataclysmic losses. The Senate bill maintains Senator Leahy’s NAP Buy Up provision and allows the program to continue to offer the catastrophic level of coverage, but also give producers the opportunity to elect higher coverage levels, which they would pay a premium for based upon the value of their production.
Supports Agricultural Trade – The Farm Bill consolidates the Market Access Program with a few other trade programs to create the new Priority Trade Promotion, Development, and Assistance Program in order to access, develop, maintain, and expand markets for U.S. agricultural goods and ensure these programs have mandatory baseline. The final bill included an amendment sponsored by Senator Heitkamp, which Senator Leahy cosponsored, that allows the USDA trade promotion funds to be used in Cuba. This is a step in the right direction as we work to support economic development in Cuba.
McGovern-Dole - The McGovern–Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program facilitates distribution of food commodities through schools in developing countries through partner organizations to improve food security, reduce hunger, and improve literacy in low income and food deficit countries. The program has projects all over the world and has fed more than 40 million children from some of the poorest countries. This Farm Bill reauthorizes this important program fighting hunger worldwide.
Food for Peace - The largest food aid program under the Agriculture Committee’s jurisdiction, Food for Peace provides for emergency aid and non-emergency development projects. This notable program enables the U.S. to donate food overseas to promote food security and the Senate Farm Bill reauthorizes the program and makes important reforms that will improve the U.S. response to crisis.
Timber Innovation – The Senate Farm Bill clarifies that the Forest Service can do research and offer technical assistance to assist with those hoping to use innovative wood products. A new wood innovation grant program is created to promote research and development of wood products and improve sustainability and environmental impact of using wood for construction.
Protections for Pets and Domestic Violence Survivors – Senator Leahy is a cosponsor of the Pet and Women Safety Act which would increase the punishments for domestic abusers who threaten or harm the pets of a domestic violence survivor. This bill would help to increase the peace of mind and security when survivors make the difficult decision of leaving an abusive environment. This bill has been included in the Senate Farm Bill.
David Carle: 202-224-3693
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