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Senate Ag Committee Passes Farm Bill
Ohio Ag Connection - 06/14/2018

The Senate Agriculture Committee passed the farm bill on Wednesday by a 20-1 vote. It will now go to the full Senate for a vote which has not yet been scheduled.

"We're thrilled that the Senate Agriculture Committee passed its version of the 2018 farm bill by a decisive margin," said John Kran, national lobbyist with Michigan Farm Bureau. "We applaud Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow and Chairman Pat Roberts for their bipartisan effort on moving us one step closer to providing Michigan farmers with this certainty before the Sept. 30 deadline."

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has voiced his intentions of having the bill on the Senate floor before the July 4 recess, Kran said.

"We could even see the House reconsider its version by then as well, pending a possible immigration vote next week," he said. "The Senate bill continues much of the key programing that agriculture has depended on since the 2014 farm bill.

"It also makes some additional improvements to the dairy program, maintains sugar policy, allows for a new animal disease preparedness program, and guarantees future funding for programs critical to agricultural exports."

According to an analysis of the bill by the Department of Agricultural and Consumer Economics at the University of Illinois; and the Department of Agricultural, Environmental and Development Economics at Ohio State University, the Senate Ag Committee draft bill contains reauthorizations for all 12 titles from the 2014 farm bill, much of which constitutes fairly straight-forward extensions of authorizations and funds, some with minor modifications.

Highlights from the analysis include:

Title I -Commodities

The Senate Ag Committee draft bill reauthorizes Price Loss Coverage (PLC) and Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) programs with modifications mostly to county-level coverage in ARC (ARC-CO), the economists said.

For ARC-CO, the Senate Ag Committee draft bill modifies yield calculations. First, the bill would clarify that the county of physical location for the FSA farm is the county to be used for the benchmark and actual revenue calculations.

Second, the plug yield used in the benchmark calculation would be increased to 75 percent of the transitional yield for the county.

Third, the bill proposes modifying the benchmark yield for ARC-CO coverage based on a trend-adjusted yield factor used by crop insurance for the trend yield endorsement.

Fourth, the bill would instruct USDA to use a single source of data for county yields (actual and benchmark) to avoid the problems experienced in recent years when NASS data and crop insurance data were used interchangeably.

Dairy

The dairy program is renamed "Dairy Risk Coverage" and coverage levels of $8.50 and $9 are added. Premiums are generally increased for existing coverage levels, and the discount for small producers (under 2 million pounds) is increased.

The bill proposes to reduce the adjusted gross income (AGI) eligibility requirement from $900,000 to $700,000 (three-year average). Payment limits are unchanged ($125,000) for ARC, PLC and marketing loan gains or LDP.

Also notable is a provision that directs the Secretary of Agriculture to review the establishment, calculation, reallocation, adjustment and reduction of base acres.

Sugar policy and the supplemental disaster assistance programs are also extended.

Title II - Conservation

Changes in the conservation programs in Title II include an increase in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acreage cap from 24 million under current law to 25 million acres.

It also includes an option to permanently retire land under a conservation reserve easement as an alternative to reenrollment in the 10 to 15 year rental contracts.

The Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) program acreage enrollment requirement is decreased from 10 million acres per fiscal year to 8.8 million acres per fiscal year, but national average assistance is to remain at $18 per acre. The bill also adds provisions for advanced grazing management and management-intensive rotational grazing to CSP.

The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) is extended with minor modifications, including an emphasis on soil health efforts.

The bill would also continue the Agriculture Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) and the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) with minor modifications to both programs.

Title IV - Nutrition

Unlike the House bill, Kran said, the Senate version does not make cuts to nutrition programs.

Title XI - Crop Insurance

The crop insurance title includes the requirement that a farmer can lose insurance coverage for failing to follow good farming practices, defined as those under which the insured crop would be expected to make normal progress toward maturity under typical growing conditions.

Such practices include "voluntary good farming practices" which are scientifically sound, sustainable and organic farming practices, as well as conservation activities or enhancements that have been approved by either the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) or local agricultural experts.

The bill provides that cover crop termination cannot affect the insurability of an insurable crop if termination is carried out according to NRCS guidelines or those of other agricultural experts.

The Senate Ag Committee draft authorizes discounts for farmers who adopt practices that can be demonstrated to reduce risks relative to other practices. It would also permit farmers to consolidate enterprise units across county lines.

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