Congress passes 2018 farm bill

Source: Georgia Farm Bureau, 12/19/19

The U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate have approved the 2018 farm bill. The final bill, which was completed by the Farm Bill Conference Committee, has been sent to President Donald Trump to be signed into law.

The Senate passed the bill on Dec. 11 by a vote of 87-13. The House passed it on Dec. 12 with a vote of 369-47. President Trump is expected to sign it as soon as this week.

Georgia Sens. Johnny Isakson and David Perdue and Reps. Rick Allen; Sanford Bishop, Doug Collins, Drew Ferguson, Tom Graves, Karen Handel, Hank Johnson, John Lewis, Austin Scott, David Scott and Rob Woodall voted in favor of the bill.

The commodity title of the 2018 farm bill reauthorizes the Price Loss Coverage (PLC) and Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) programs through 2023 with enhancements, improves the dairy safety net (Dairy Margin Coverage), and continues several existing disaster programs, among other things.

Producers can choose between ARC and PLC on a crop-by-crop and farm-by-farm basis for the 2019/2020 crop years. From 2021 forward, producers can make annual elections.

PLC reference prices were maintained at 2014 farm bill levels, but an Effective Reference Price was included, which will allow reference prices to rise up to 115 percent of statutory levels if commodity prices rise—meaning the peanut reference price, for example, could float as high as $615.25 (up from $535). Beginning with crop year 2020, farm owners will have the opportunity to update program yields used to calculate PLC assistance (similar to the yield update in the 2014 farm bill). Yield update will be available for each covered commodity—up to 90 percent of the average yield per planted acre on farms from 2013-2017 times yield update factors.

Several targeted reforms were included to improve the effectiveness of the ARC-CO program.

Marketing loan rates for certain commodities were increased in an effort to more accurately reflect current market prices.

For dairy producers, the bill increases coverage options and includes flexibility and reduced premiums.

The payment limits and adjusted gross income (AGI) eligibility requirements from the 2014 farm bill were maintained without modification.

The “actively engaged in farming” definition was expanded to help family farms. First cousins, nieces, and nephews are now eligible for farm safety net programs.

ARC/PLC payments will be suspended on farms that have been entirely in grass/pasture since 2009. According to the conference committee, this change was made in an effort to ensure the farm safety net is targeted to farms that are producing covered commodities. Farms affected by this change will have the opportunity to participate in a five-year grassland incentive contract under the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) at a rate of $18 per acre.

The existing structure of crop insurance was maintained.

The Risk Management Agency (RMA) was directed to consider ways to improve crop insurance for those impacted by hurricanes/tropical storms and farms that utilize more efficient irrigation systems, among other things.

Whole Farm Revenue Protection (WFRP) discounts for beginning farmers were expanded to ten years (up from five years).

The bill included a $75 million feral swine eradication and control pilot program for threat assessment, control methods, and land restoration.

The Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acreage cap was increased to 27 million by 2023, but changes were made (reduced rental rates/incentive payments) to ensure CRP is not competing with farmers for productive land.

Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) funding was increased to $2.025 billion by 2023 and producer-focused flexibility was added.

The Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) was continued with modifications and reduced funding (program savings were used to increase funding for EQIP and other conservation efforts)

Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) funding was restored to $450 million per year and additional program flexibility was included.

Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) funding was increased to $300 million per year with additional program flexibility for NRCS and others partner organizations.

The bill included $225 million per year for Agricultural Trade Promotion and Facilitation with a Priority Trade Fund of $3.5 million to be used for certain trade programs at the secretary’s discretion.

Farm Service Agency (FSA) farm ownership/operating loan limits were increased. FSA’s guaranteed loan limits were increased to $1.75 million, direct operating loan limits were increased to $400,000, and direct farm ownership loans were increased to $600,000.

The secretary of agriculture was provided new authority to make available rural broadband grants and loans/grants for “middle-mile” broadband projects, which are designed to link rural regions to existing high-speed internet connections.

The farm bill expands rural community access to credit to “build and upgrade essential infrastructure projects,” including water systems, schools, hospitals, and telecommunications systems, among other things.

Investments in land-grant universities were continued, as was language to streamline regulatory requirements and provide additional program flexibility.

Funding was maintained for the Specialty Crop Research Initiative at $80 million per year.

Language was included to increase coordination of research efforts addressing biosecurity threats from pests, diseases, contaminants, and disasters.

The Timber Innovation Act—which seeks to advance tall wood building construction in the U.S.—was included, as was language to expedite environmental reviews on federal, state, and private forest lands.

The Specialty Crop Block Grants Program was funded at $85 million per year.

The production of hemp as an agricultural commodity was legalized and hemp was made eligible for crop insurance.

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) was directed to exclude from the added sugar declaration on nutrition labels any single ingredient products—including honey.

The definition of livestock under the Emergency Livestock Feed Assistance Act was amended to include live fish, crawfish, and llamas (adds clarity for federal transportation regulations).

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