The Senate Agriculture Committee unveiled its version of the farm bill Friday, including a path to legalizing industrial hemp. That’s an effort being pushed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, whose state, Kentucky, is a leader in the crop.
The current farm bill expires Sept. 30. This draft was hammered out by committee chairman Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, and ranking minority member Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan. In the course of drafting it, the two repeatedly expressed a commitment to making a bill with bipartisan support. That's in contrast to the House version of the bill which received zero votes from Democrats either in committee or on the House floor.
The Senate version leaves out stricter work requirements for adults in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, a provision in the House bill that was met by backlash from Democrats.
But when the House bill failed to pass in May, the main reason was because some conservative Republicans held back their support in order to secure a vote on an immigration bill. The House plans a re-vote on the farm bill by June 22, Kansas GOP Rep. Roger Marshall told High Plains Public Radio recently.
Here’s a look at some noteworthy changes, title by title, which could change when the committee votes on it next week; McConnell said the full chamber wants to vote before July 4.
- Sets up a subsidized insurance program (Dairy Risk Coverage Program) to help dairy farmers manage critically low milk prices. In March, the average milk price was 30 percent below the cost of production according to the National Family Farm Coalition.
- Lowers the maximum income limit that determines when farmers are cut off from receiving commodity payments, from $900,000 to $700,000 adjusted gross income. That’s not likely to satisfy groups who argue that larger, more lucrative farms should not be eligible for subsidies.
- Slightly increases the total number of acres that can be enrolled in the Conservation Reserve Program, which pays farmers for taking environmentally sensitive farmland out of production. The acreage limit would grow from 24 million to 25 million. As of September 2017, 23.4 million acres were enrolled in the program.
- Cuts funding to two working lands conservation programs, the Conservation Stewardship Program and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. (The House version eliminates CSP and incorporates it into EQIP.)
- Creates a pilot project that would offer incentives to farmers for farming practices that improve soil health such as increasing the carbon level in the soil.
- Legalizes hemp, taking it off the list of controlled substances. The provision also would give states regulatory oversight and allow hemp farmers to apply for crop insurance. The crop contains cannabidiol, also known as CBD oil, that's purported to have strong medicinal properties.
- No major changes to current crop insurance programs.
- Skirts major changes to Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program work requirements that were found in the House bill, but keeps the 2014 provision that gives states the right to waive requirements if there isn’t “a sufficient number of jobs.”
- Requires more detailed feedback on how state workforce programs are operating, making sure participants are meeting minimum hours to stay on SNAP.
- Provides $92.5 million in 2019 and 2020 to fund state pilot projects for workforce programs, aimed at finding what works best at getting people employed.
- Establishes pilot programs in up to eight states to find ways to make income verification more accurate and efficient as people apply for SNAP benefits.
- Increases funding for a program that helps small towns refurbish aging water systems.
- Prioritizes funding for rural community facilities that would provide prevention, treatment and recovery of opioid abuse.
- Continues funding for the nutritional education program, which the House bill had repealed.
- Repeals a rangeland research program that received $2 million annually between 2014 and 2018.
- Creates a grant program called New Beginning for Tribal Students, in which land- grant colleges and universities can receive up to $500,000 annually to provide academic support (tutoring, etc.) to Native American students. Creates an annual competition to incentivize innovation of mobile tech for new ranchers and farmers, with a $1 million prize for each year’s winner.
- Awards $10 million annually to the Partnership to Build Capacity in International Agricultural Research Extension and Teaching; aids partnerships between U.S. schools and schools in developing countries to research challenges in food insecurity, environment, agriculture and livestock.
- Creates a new department in the USDA, called “homeland security,” with an “executive director” to oversee the National Bio and Agro-defense Facility (NBAF) in Manhattan, Kansas. This shores up a February announcement that authority would transfer from the Department of Homeland Security to the USDA. NBAF is currently being built in Kansas and will replace the aging Plum Island Animal Disease Center in the Long Island Sound in New York.
Harvest Public Media reporters Madelyn Beck, Esther Honig and Peggy Lowe contributed to this report. Follow Grant on Twitter: @ggerlock