By RACHEL LANE
WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Senate version of the farm bill was introduced and passed out of its Agriculture Committee within a week.
Called the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018, it builds on the 2014 farm bill that expires Sept. 30. Some of the changes made in the bipartisan bill include changing payment limits for organic producers in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, and dairy refunds for dairy Margin Protection Program premium payments made between 2015-17.
The bill passed out of committee with a single “no” vote, from Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley.
“Farm programs should provide temporary, limited assistance to farmers when there's a natural disaster or an unforeseeable, sudden change in market price,” he said.
To be fiscally responsible and close loopholes, he wants to include enforceable limits to farm safety net payments. He said the loopholes allow some non-farmers to “game the system,” limiting resources available to real farmers.
The current language in the House bill allows billionaires to be eligible for farm subsidies, Grassley said.
“Ten percent of farmers get over 70 percent of the payments from the farm bill. One reason for this is that current farm policy offers farmers unlimited subsidies if they hire the right lawyer,” he added.
He has been attempting to include similar language in the farm bill for the last decade. He plans to introduce the change as an amendment, similar to the amendment accepted in the 2014 farm bill.
One of the changes needed would define “actively engaged” in farming operations. Current language awards anyone active in personal management, defined by vague language, Grassley said. In 2015, the loophole allowed $259 million to be awarded.
He wants to review the assistance offered on individual crops, as well. Peanuts have received more than $340 an acre, rice gets $238 per acre and cotton gets $104. When the production value of corn and soybeans is added together, it doesn't equal the other crops.
If the price of cotton drops by 1 percent, U.S. cotton farmers get an unlimited marketing loan payment, Grassley said. “That's not a safety net. That's a hammock.”
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) plans to hold a vote in the Senate before the July 4 recess.
The House version of the bill is expected be voted on a second time on June 22. Instead of making changes to the existing bill, which would have controversial work requirements for nutrition assistance, members of the Freedom Caucus will be allowed to hold a vote for an immigration bill in exchange for their support of the farm bill.
The immigration bill would give temporary protection to young illegal immigrants but not offer citizenship. It has been reported that this bill does not have the votes needed to pass the House.
The work requirements have been met with disapproval from far-right Republicans for not being strict enough. Democrats disapprove of the requirements because the language is exacting – a person doing shift work may work 15 hours one week and 25 hours the next week, but lose benefits because they're not working 20 hours every week.
Both bills would allow the creation of a foot-and-mouth disease vaccination bank. The National Pork Producers Council and the U.S. Cattlemen's Assoc. (USCA) support this. No dollar amount was attached to the Senate bill, but an appropriations authorization request was included, the USCA reported.