One of the last vestiges of bipartisanship in Congress began delivering its baby Tuesday. House and Senate agricultural conferees finally agreed on the 2018 Farm Bill, and by late afternoon it was sailing through the U.S. Senate on an 87-13 vote.
There is precious little in the 807-page bill, with its $867 billion in planned spending over 10 years, for food safety. New mandatory funding is included for state departments of agriculture to combat animal disease is in the bill, according to the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA).
NASDA President Jeff Witte, who is also New Mexico’s Secretary of Agriculture, said he was “thrilled” with the conference agreement on the 2018 Farm Bill.
“The committee’s prioritization on establishing the Animal Disease Preparedness and Response Program is particularly noteworthy,” Witte said. “This vital program will provide much-needed protections for America’s farmers and ranchers, our globalized food supply, and the U.S. economy.”
Also in the 2018 Farm Bill is funding for a livestock vaccine bank.
The House floor vote on the conference report likely will come today or tomorrow and is expected to have sufficient votes to send the legislation to the White House for the president’s signature.
One of the 13 senators who voted against the bill was Iowa Republican Chuck Grassley. He says the top 10 percent of farmers will receive more than 70 percent of the farm subsidies.
“To say I’m disappointed the bill makes more subsidies available to the wealthiest farmers and many non-farmers is a severe understatement,” Grassley said on the Senate floor.
“Today we have a farm bill that is intentionally written to have the largest farmers received unlimited subsidies from the federal government. There is no other way to characterize what the conference committee has done.”
Grassley said part of why he voted “No” on the 2018 Farm Bill is because it does not set limits on subsidies that he has sought for several years. Grassley is one of two farmers in Senate, but he voted against the 2018 Farm Bill in part because it makes more distant relatives of farmers, such as cousins, nieces and nephews, eligible to share in federal subsidies.
The Iowa Republican said he’s never heard young or beginning farmers say that the way to help them is to give more money to the largest farmers.
“This bill represents an open-ended spigot of taxpayer subsidies in Title 1,” Grassley told his fellow Senators.
President Trump is expected to sign the 2018 Farm Bill, which he said was “in good shape” when commenting on it on Monday. It would mean Trump is backing down from supporting House Republicans in making work requirements for obtaining food stamps for certain able adults.
There’s more in the Farm Bill than agriculture. Food stamps, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP, accounts for 80 percent of the Farm Bill spending. The conference report did not include any SNAP cuts or work requirements. The 60 vote requirement in the Senate made that impossible.
The Farm Bill also includes forestry because the U.S. Department of Agriculture houses the Forest Service. And forest issues were reconsidered this year because of the devastating wildfires in California.
The Farm Bill represents forestry compromises. It waives environmental reviews for such activities as clearing insect-infested or diseased trees. But no loopholes were opened for pesticides restrictions or protection of endangered species.
The 2018 Farm Bill continues a program for “covered commodities” that includes barley, chickpeas (large and small); corn, dry peas, grain sorghum, lentils, minor oilseeds, oats, peanuts, rice, seed cotton, soybeans, and wheat.
Farm bills have a reputation for including some ambitious isolated sideshow issues. A past farm bill moved catfish inspections to USDA from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). This year’s Farm Bill makes growing hemp legal, promises to eradicate feral hogs, and begins funding rural broadband internet construction.
(To sign up for a free subscription to Food Safety News, click here.)