Alabama is home to a $70 billion agriculture economy, which is why the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018, H.R. 2, better known as the “Farm bill” is particularly important for Yellowhammer State farmers.
The bill is headed for a vote on Friday by the U.S. House of Representatives. Already, some Alabama representatives are speaking out in support of the bill, but if passed, how will it really affect the Yellowhammer State?
- Farm policy: ARC and PLC. The bill reauthorizes and strengthens the Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC) options through 2023. Producers are given an opportunity to make a new election between ARC and PLC with several improvements, including allowing a new yield update opportunity for producers who were facing severe drought during the previous yield update, allowing reference prices to adjust to improved market conditions, and prioritizing the use of RMA data for administering ARC to minimize disparities between counties.
- Nutrition. Over 35 improvements are made to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), the nation’s flagship nutrition program. Most notably, existing work requirements are strengthened, streamlined and paired with a variety of options to increase opportunities for SNAP recipients, including participating in a fully-funded, guaranteed Employment & Training (E&T) slot. Individuals may choose not to participate, but they will no longer be eligible for SNAP.
- The Farm Bill would not kick 1,000,000 SNAP recipients off the program: Anyone who would leave the program would do so because they have obtained employment with sufficient income and are no longer be eligible or they choose not to work or participate in a work or training program for at least 20 hours per week. No one would be kicked off SNAP due to a mandatory work requirement.
- The bill would not enforce work requirements on the disabled, the elderly, expectant mothers, caretakers of children or children: Any able-bodied adult on government assistance should be working at least 20 hours per week. SNAP is a tool to bring individuals and families out of poverty using the work requirements and training program.
- Dairy policy. The Margin Protection Program is renamed the Dairy Risk Management (DRM) program. The first 5 million pounds of milk production on a dairy is made eligible for higher coverage levels at lower premiums. Milk production not covered under DRM is made fully eligible for a comparable crop insurance policy. Finally, feed costs are studied to ensure accuracy in the DRM, and class I milk calculations are adjusted to help dairy farmers better manage risk in the futures market.
- Trade. Given escalating use of illegal trade actions by foreign countries, the farm bill stands by Alabama’s farmers and ranchers, providing a strengthened safety net and authorizing and restoring funding for vital tools for trade promotion and market development. The farm bill also maintains long-standing legal authority for the secretary to provide assistance to farmers and ranchers affected by unfair foreign trading practices.
- Establishes an International Market Development Program. Maintains and strengthens the program purposes of the Market Access Program (MAP), the Foreign Market Development (FMD) Program, the Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops (TASC) Program, and the Emerging Markets Program (EMP), bringing these initiatives under the single umbrella of a $255 million per year International Market Development Program, with no less than $200 million for MAP, no less than $34.5 million for FMD, $10 million for EMP, and $9 million for TASC.
- Conservation. The farm bill prioritizes working-lands conservation by retaining and folding the best features of the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) into the nation’s flagship incentive-based program for voluntary conservation—the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP). This supports and enables a significant investment in emerging conservation practices like the use of cover crops
- Crop insurance. At the request of virtually every farmer, rural banker and rural business in the country, the farm bill enhances and protects crop insurance. According to the Ag Committee, “some improvements are made but, overall, the farm bill doesn’t fix what isn’t broken.”
- Rural development. Rural areas of Alabama lack the same access to broadband and infrastructure that urban areas do. The bill authorizes substantial annual appropriations for rural broadband and requires USDA to establish forward-looking broadband standards. The farm bill also strengthens the suite of rural development initiatives to promote jobs and economic activity in rural Alabama where employment is suffering due to the sharp downturn in the farm economy.
- Tackling the opioid crisis. Provides the secretary the authority to prioritize projects that help communities meet the challenges of the opioid crisis. Funds projects that provide access to telehealth services and build medical facilities in rural communities. It also provides a 33 percent ($25,000,000) increase in authorized funding for critical telehealth grants under the distance Learning and Telehealth Program.
- Beginning farmers and ranchers. The bill maintains several provisions to help beginning farmers and ranchers establish themselves in agriculture. The bill establishes a scholarship program at 1890 Land Grant Institutions designed to assist students interested in careers in agriculture. Many of the challenges faced by beginning farmers and ranchers are intrinsically linked to those retiring producers. 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.
Feral hog problem. Ranchers and other livestock producers are wary of the 40 diseases feral hogs carry, including tick-borne diseases. The hogs range freely across county and state lines, spreading these diseases to other regions. Fences do little to stop them. The bill establishes a National Animal Disease Preparedness and Response Program aimed to protect the health of the nation’s livestock.