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Senate Passes Farm Bill, House is Last Stop Before White House

On a resounding 87-13 roll call, senators passed a compromise farm bill on Tuesday that modestly strengthens the farm safety net and offers the first chance in five years for growers to switch between the traditionally designed Price Loss Coverage and insurance-like Agriculture Risk Coverage programs. The House could vote as early as Wednesday to send the bill to President Trump.

Senate Agriculture chairman Pat Roberts said the mostly status quo farm bill will deliver  “certainty and predictability” to growers and their lenders as a counter-balance to the ongoing slump in farm income and trade war with China. “There’s a lot of farmers right up on the edge,” said Roberts.

The bill would increase marketing loan rates and includes an escalator for PLC reference prices if commodity prices rise in the coming years. In 2019, growers would have the option to switch between PLC and ARC. That choice would be binding on 2019 and 2020 crops. After that, there would be an annual opportunity to change between PLC and ARC. Growers also will have the chance to update program yields in 2019.

The Conservation Reserve would expand to 27 million acres, an increase of 3 million acres, under the farm bill, with the cost offset by a lower rental payment to landowners. Funding for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program would expand while spending on the green-payment Conservation Stewardship Program would drop.

The 87 votes for the farm bill was the largest total ever in the Senate for a farm bill, said Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow, the Democratic leader on the Agriculture Committee. Roberts said the landslide vote in the Senate would smooth the path to enactment of the farm bill. “If Congress passes this legislation, I will encourage the president to sign it,” said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.

All of the senators voting against the farm bill were Republicans. Some wanted food stamp reform. Iowa Sen Chuck Grassley voted against the bill because negotiators scrapped his provision to limit crop subsidies to farmers, their spouses and one “manager” per farm. Instead, the bill loosened payment rules to make nieces, nephews, and first cousins of farmers eligible for up to $125,000 a year in payments.

Grassley said House Agriculture chairman Michael Conaway, from the No. 1 cotton and cattle state of Texas, was responsible for the change in payment rules. “He doesn't mind having people that are wealthy, that are not directly involved in farming operations, from profiting,” said Grassley.

Produced with FERN, non-profit reporting on food, agriculture, and environmental health.
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