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Sen. Sherrod Brown, a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, has helped include several programs in their version of the 2018 Farm Bill.

Senate Farm Bill passes committee — Lake Erie, dairy programs included

By Joel Penhorwood

The Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry passed their version of the 2018 Farm Bill on Wednesday, 20-1.

Senator Sherrod Brown (D-OH), a member of the Committee, said it’s an important bipartisan effort during a crucial time for Ohio agriculture and natural resources.

“This bipartisan bill is good for farmers, good for families, good for taxpayers, good for jobs, and good for Lake Erie,” Brown said. “This bill is a big win for Ohio, and it’s the product of a long, bipartisan process, working with farmers and stakeholders over the past year.”

Listen to Sen. Brown’s comments following the vote.

Sen. Brown spoke with reporters in a conference call immediately after the vote. He was joined by Dr. Cathann Kress, Dean of the Ohio State College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences. She commented on the positive movement forward for Ohio agriculture.

Known formally as the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, the legislation can be read in its entirety here.

The currently active 2014 Farm Bill is set to expire in September. When a farm bill terminates, some programs cease to operate unless reauthorized, while others, including major commodity programs, revert to permanent, outdated law from the 1940s. These consequences are partially motivating lawmakers towards the fast-approaching finish line later this year.

Sen. Brown said there is hope to get a full Senate vote before the Independence Day recess.

He outlined several key provisions in the Farm Bill that he helped introduce and secure, including:

  • Brown’s Local Food and Regional Market Supply (FARMS) Act:
    • This bill would help farmers sell their products directly to consumers, create rural jobs, and invest in local and regional food economies.
  • Provisions from Brown’s water quality improvement bill, the Give Our Resources the Opportunity to Work (GROW) Act:
    • This legislation will improve water quality in Lake Erie and across Ohio by refocusing federal investments to improve water quality and soil health. These efforts will improve federal conservation programs and better support Ohio farmers by reforming the three largest conservation funding programs to protect waterways while expanding access to quality farmland.
  • Provisions that would make improvements to dairy programs in order to better target support for small- and medium-sized producers:
    • The Farm Bill replaces the Margin Protection Program (MPP) with the Dairy Risk Coverage program, which invests an additional $100 million to improve affordability, flexibility, and effectiveness for Ohio dairy farmers.
  • Provisions that protect the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) for hungry families in Ohio:
    • Brown pushed to help protect families in need by helping avoid harmful eligibility changes that would force working families to jump through unnecessary bureaucratic hoops.

Sen. Brown remarked how the needs of Ohio farmers and communities, exhibited through roundtables and other meetings in recent months, helped craft the bill’s current state.

“That’s why we wanted to do the updated to ARC, that’s why we tackled dairy the way we did — in northwest Ohio, particularly worked on the conservation title and finding ways to entice more farmers to want to do that. We want to help farmers plant to the market, not to the program,” Brown said. “We looked at rural broadband issues in certain parts of the state, especially in southeast Ohio. Young people and entrepreneurs have trouble meeting their challenges of school work or growing their businesses because of lack of broadband.

“All of those were part of this bill.”

The House version of the Farm Bill, passed committee but was surprisingly voted down on the main floor after a group of conservatives voted against the action, in favor of tackling immigration changes first. The House is set to reconsider the bill later this month.

Several farm groups chimed in to the news of the Committee’s vote, including the National Corn Growers Association.

“Today’s Committee action marks another step forward in getting a new farm bill passed and signed into law before the current bill expires, providing some certainty to farmers facing declining commodity prices and the uncertainty caused by trade tariffs and ethanol market disruptions. NCGA commends Chairman Roberts and Ranking Member Stabenow for working together to write a bipartisan bill,” said Kevin Skunes, President of the National Corn Growers Association. “NCGA is pleased to see the bipartisan bill maintains support for a robust crop insurance program, our organization’s top farm bill priority. At the same time, it is very disappointing that provisions attempting to secure a more regionally equitable commodity title and improve the ARC-county program to ensure producers have a viable, market-oriented risk management option were not included in the final bill. We hope there will be opportunities to improve these areas as the bill moves forward.”

The American Soybean Association also applauded the passage.

“Soy growers and farmers across the country are in need of certainty during this time of low crop prices and volatile conditions affecting export markets,” said ASA Vice President Davie Stephens. “The Senate Committee’s action today takes us one step closer to completing the farm bill this year, providing much needed stability across the countryside.”

The National Association of Wheat Growers noted important trade inclusion.

“NAWG commends the Senate Agriculture Committee for working together to move the Farm Bill forward and out of Committee. It’s vital for the bill to be reauthorized before the September 30th deadline, so that farmers can have access to these beneficial programs,” said Jimmie Musick, President of the National Association of Wheat Growers. “NAWG is pleased that the Committee accepted language to allow trade promotion dollars from Market Access Program (MAP) and Foreign Market Development (FMD) to be used in Cuba. Cuba is a growing market for U.S. wheat growers and these programs help strengthen this partnership.”

Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa was the lone dissenting vote. His proposal to limit subsidy payments was not added.

Other notable inclusions to the 2018 Farm Bill are hemp legalization as well as language that allows funding for a Foot and Mouth Disease vaccine bank, something livestock groups have lobbied for heavily.

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