After a year of battling rising costs stemming from tariffs implemented by the Trump administration to hundreds of dairy farmers losing their contracts with their processors, there is finally some good news for farmers. Federal lawmakers late Thursday agreed in principle on a new farm bill nearly two months after the previous version expired.
The new five-year farm bill is now expected to pass by the end of the year.
“This is one that is incredibly important for rural America,” said Rep. Glenn Thompson (R-Pa.), a member of the conference committee that drafted the final bill. “Whether it’s been improvements on the nutrition title, improvements on the conservation title, (or) improvements on the forestry title.”
Once all said and done, the biggest setback came for Republicans. GOP leaders on that committee were pushing for stricter working requirements on adults receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, also known as food stamps. Republicans have long sought to reform federal food stamp programs and funding at the federal level despite states running many supplemental programs.
Democrats were long-opposed to those changes, and ultimately shot down the proposal. SNAP reform perhaps the main sticking point that delayed the farm bill after it expired on Oct. 1. Top committee members say the compromise leans more toward the Senate’s version of the plan.
“You don’t always get everything that you want,” said Thompson. “But this is a pretty darn good Farm Bill.”
“If we had the harsh House bill, which had not one Democratic amendment in it, that would also be something that (would have come) back on the table,” said Thompson’s committee colleague Del. Stacey Plaskett (D-V.I.).
The farm bill is a catch-all package of legislation covering everything from food to farmers’ crop insurance. Congressional leaders are still tweaking the bill and haven’t determined its final cost. The next step is to get the entire bill before Congress. It could be passed as soon as next week, Thompson said.
With the farm bill nearly complete, Plaskett and her fellow House Agriculture Committee members are now preparing for an aggressive 2019 agenda, likely chaired by current Ranking Member Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.).
“Farm subsidies, rural development issues, support to farmers as well as nutrition,” Plaskett said are some of Peterson’s top priorities.
The conference committee still has one big hurdle to clear: concerns led by U.S. Agriculture Sec. Sonny Perdue and U.S. Interior Sec. Ryan Zinke over forestry management, an issue that popped up following the devastating California wildfires.