The compromise Farm Bill sailed to passage in the U.S. Senate on Tuesday by a bipartisan vote of 87 to 13, with the support of both Alabama U.S. Sen. Richard Shelby and Doug Jones, less than 24 hours after it being released to the public.
The final bill reflects a hard-fought bipartisan, bicameral agreement on a five-year farm bill to strengthen the diversity of American agriculture and support the 16 million jobs that power the food and farm economy.
“This bipartisan legislation provides much-needed predictability that will significantly benefit our state’s farmers and the entire agriculture industry,” said Shelby. “I look forward to the lasting positive impact this bill with have on rural areas throughout Alabama and the nation.”
“This is a Farm Bill for rural Alabama and rural America,” said Jones. “I’m proud that the final legislation ensures that our farmers have the support and resources they need to continue to do their important work. It also addresses several urgent issues for our state, particularly the need for expanded rural health care and broadband access. Since I arrived in the Senate in January, I’ve worked closely with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle, as well as farmers from across Alabama, to advocate for a strong Farm Bill for all of our rural communities. This bill reflects the priorities we share for a brighter and more secure future for Alabama.”
Agriculture is Alabama’s top revenue producing industry, generating an annual impact of over $70 billion. With over nine million acres of farmland and more than 48,500 farms, the state is a national leader in food production and a global competitor in the poultry, catfish, timber, cotton, and livestock industries.
The bill now moves to the House for final consideration.
2018 Farm Bill Overview*
The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, also known as the 2018 Farm Bill, strengthens the diversity of American agriculture, supporting the 16 million jobs at the root of our farm and food economy. The impact of the Farm Bill reaches both on and off the farm by growing opportunities for our farmers, protecting our land and water, strengthening small towns and rural communities, and supporting families working hard to make ends meet.
Strengthening the diversity of American agriculture
- Protects crop insurance and expands coverage to new crops including fruits, vegetables, hops, and barley. The bill also improves crop insurance access for veterans, beginning farmers, and fruit and vegetable growers, and more than doubles the disaster assistance coverage options for crops that are not eligible for insurance.
- Improves risk management options for commodity crop farmers and dramatically expands the coverage for dairy farmers. Building on the $1.1 billion added to support dairy farmers in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018, the bill provides improved coverage options at more affordable rates and refunds up to $58 million in premiums paid under the former program.
- Expands export opportunities by securing an additional nearly $500 million in permanent funding over the next decade to help farmers find new global markets for their goods.
- Strengthens investments in agricultural research to support groundbreaking science that makes farmers more efficient, resilient, and sustainable, and invests $185 million in public-private research through the innovative Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, which will generate nearly $4 billion in returns to the agricultural economy.
- Grows local food economies by securing $500 million in permanent funding, more than doubling past investments for farmers markets, local food systems, and value-added production as a part of the new Local Agriculture Market Program.
- Helps socially disadvantaged, veteran, and new and beginning farmers by combining initiatives to create $435 million in permanent funding – tripling the current investment – to educate the next generation of farmers and reach more minority farmers as a part of the new Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach Program.
- Helps military veterans with careers in agriculture by making risk management tools more affordable, improving access to land and capital, and prioritizing training for veterans.
- Establishes historic new support for urban agriculture in the farm bill for the first time by creating a new office at the U.S. Department of Agriculture to advocate for urban farms. It also includes provisions to make it easier for urban farmers to start their farms, grow their businesses, and manage their risk.
- Grows the organic sector by providing $395 million in permanent funding, which almost quadruples investment for organic research. The bill also offers cost-share assistance to help farmers transition into organics and strengthens trade enforcement.
- Provides support for specialty crop growers by continuing $2.4 billion in permanent investments in research, pest management, and promotion of fruits and vegetables and providing $125 million to conduct five years of critical citrus disease research.
- Legalizes hemp as an agricultural commodity, expanding the diversity of American agriculture and opening up new market opportunities for farmers.
- Safeguards livestock and poultry from disease outbreaks through strong investments in detection, response, and recovery, including the creation of a national vaccine bank.
- Offers $40 million in new scholarship opportunities at land grant universities for students attending historically black 1890’s colleges and universities and authorizes scholarships for tribal students pursuing careers in agriculture.
New tools to conserve and restore our land, water, and forests
- Maintains funding in the conservation title, maintains unique working lands programs, and grows overall funding for conservation by leveraging private dollars.
- Invests in regional conservation partnerships by tripling mandatory funding, which will leverage nearly $3 billion in new private investment in locally-led conservation over the next decade, while also streamlining requirements for farmers and local partners leading the projects.
- Improves soil health and water quality by encouraging farmers to plant cover crops, providing incentives in conservation programs, driving climate-smart practices through a new soil health pilot to sequester carbon, and prioritizing the protection of drinking water by dedicating at least 10 percent of all conservation dollars to these projects.
- Secures opportunities for outdoor recreation by adding 3 million new acres to the Conservation Reserve Program, expanding Voluntary Public Access to allow more recreation on private lands, and designating 20,000 acres of national forest wilderness.
- Promotes clean energy and efficiency upgrades by including $500 million to help rural small businesses and farmers use renewable energy and create energy installation jobs.
- Protects against wildfires by expanding bipartisan forest health tools and expediting wildfire prevention treatments across federal, state, and private ownership.
- Safeguards important environmental protections by rejecting over 40 harmful poison pill riders, including provisions that would have undermined the Endangered Species Act, allowed unaccountable logging on federal lands, and weakened pesticide regulations that protect families, farmworkers, and drinking water.
Protecting food access for families
- Protects access to food assistance for families in need by avoiding harmful benefits cuts and eligibility changes that would take away food and create obstacles for working families.
- Increases job training opportunities to help SNAP participants find and keep good-paying jobs the right way, while keeping out partisan changes to work requirements.
- Expands access to healthy foods by securing $510 million in permanent funding – more than doubling investments for Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentives that encourage SNAP participants to purchase fruits and vegetables. The bill also creates new produce prescription initiatives that make fruits and vegetables more accessible and affordable for families.
- Establishes a “Farm to Food Bank” initiative to provide healthy, local foods to families in need while reducing food waste.
- Reduces burdensome paperwork for seniors to help them access food assistance.
- Strengthens oversight of state administration of SNAP to address integrity and technology issues and prevent participants from receiving benefits in multiple states, while safeguarding privacy.
Investments in the future of small towns and rural communities
- Expands high-speed internet in rural communities by providing new grants that will target areas most in need and connect communities with modern internet access. The bill increases funding from $25 million to $350 million per year – nearly 15 times the previous amount.
- Fights the opioid crisis by opening up billions in financing opportunities for expanded telemedicine and community facility investments to provide critical treatment options for those who suffer from opioid addiction.
- Improves rural drinking water by targeting infrastructure investments to ensure small town water systems are providing clean and reliable tap water.
- Invests in biobased manufacturing, which creates and supports millions of rural and urban manufacturing jobs by using American-grown crops and trees to make biofuels and biobased products.
- Reestablishes the position of Under Secretary of Rural Development at USDA to be a champion for small towns and rural communities.
- Encourages innovative uses for wood as a building material by enacting the bipartisan Timber Innovation Act that will create rural jobs and protect forestland from development.
- Provides new opportunities for tribal communities to participate in research and extension projects and grow their economies through Promise Zone partnerships.
- Grows rural small businesses through new investments that promote rural entrepreneurship, redevelop Main Streets, and provide essential skills training opportunities.
*courtesy of the Senate Agriculture Committee