2018 FARM BILL SIGNED INTO LAW
USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue lauded the bill as a positive for American agriculture saying, "farmers take financial risks every year as a matter of doing business, so having a Farm Bill in place gives them peace of mind to make their decisions for the future."
President Trump added some positive feedback for farmers that have faced a difficult few years, saying "Through floods and freezing weather, we will always stand with American Farmers."
While the actual text of the legislation is extremely lengthy and technical, here are some of the highlights of the 2018 Farm Bill.
The bill works to address the 5-year, 52-percent decline in the farm economy by providing certainty for farmers and agribusinesses so they can prepare for the future.
Several features of the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) were moved into the very popular incentive-based program for voluntary conservation — the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). This supports emerging conservation practices such as the use of cross fencing for livestock, water conservation and use of cover crops.
Farmers, bankers, and agribusiness owners across the state stressed the importance of crop insurance and the 2018 bill works to protect those safety nets. Some improvements were made but, overall, crop insurance was left mostly unchanged. Congress did add requirements for the USDA Risk Management Agency to conduct research on future changes to an insurance policy for producers impacted by hurricanes and other natural disasters.
The legislation made positive changes for dairy producers by remaking the Margin Protection Program. This will increase coverage levels and reduce premiums for dairymen.
The Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC) options are strengthened and reauthorized through 2023. The bill would give producers an opportunity to make a new election between ARC and PLC with several improvements.
Given the latest trade discussions with Canada, Mexico and China, the bill addresses some of the uncertainty that can occur as producers put a crop in the ground that’s prices are directly tied to global economic conditions and changing trade agreements. According to USDA, the farm bill looks to “stand by our nation’s farmers and ranchers, providing a strengthened safety net and authorizing and restoring funding for vital tools for trade promotion and market development."
Long-standing legal authority for the secretary to provide assistance to farmers and ranchers affected by unfair foreign trade practices has been maintained in the 2018 Farm Bill.
Addressing rural broadband issues and the opioid crisis, the bill authorizes substantial annual appropriations for rural broadband and requires USDA to establish forward-looking broadband standards. The bill expands the use of loan guarantees that allow rural lenders to leverage loans made for rural development projects and it removes population caps that kept some in rural America from benefiting from the programs because their town topped the 50,000 people cap. The farm bill also provides the secretary with the authority to prioritize projects that help communities meet the challenges of the opioid crisis.
A new National Animal Disease Preparedness and Response Program has been established through the 2018 Farm Bill. Designed to protect the health of the nation's livestock sector, the program is modeled after the Plant Pest and Disease Management and Disaster Prevention Program that has been successful and strengthened the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) ability to protect U.S. agriculture and natural resources from foreign plant pest threats. Funding was included for a vaccination bank that will focus on foot-and-mouth disease as well as money for the National Animal Health Laboratory.
Specialty and Organic Crops
The new International Market Development Program in the farm bill restores funding for Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops (TASC). Expanding and improving crop insurance policies for specialty crops is also addressed, along with improvements to the Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) and the Specialty Crop Block Grant program, while maintaining funding.
Beginning Farmers and Ranchers
Several provisions to help beginning farmers and ranchers establish themselves in agriculture are provided in the bill. The bill enhances access to crop insurance and establishes a scholarship program designed to assist students interested in agricultural careers.
Many challenges faced by young farmers are linked to retiring producers, so the 2018 Farm Bill establishes the “Commission on Farm Transitions – Needs for 2050”, to examine additional policy changes needed to ensure that the U.S. maintains the safest, most abundant and most affordable food and fiber supply in the world."