Josh Rolph, federal policy manager for the California Farm Bureau Federation, said final negotiations on the policy package that guides programs relied upon by farmers, ranchers, rural communities and others, are expected to be delayed by a week or two. The 2018 Farm Bill will reauthorize the nation's nearly $900 billion in food and agriculture programs for another five years.
"We're so close to the finish line," Rolph said. "Farmers across the countryside are hoping for a finalized deal before Christmas."
Senate and House Agriculture Committee Chairmen Mike Conaway, R-Texas, and Pat Roberts, R- Kan., and Ranking Members Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., announced last week that they have reached a tentative agreement.
"We're pleased to announce that we've reached an agreement in principle on the 2018 Farm Bill. We are committed to delivering a new farm bill to America as quickly as possible," they stated.
The tentative deal came together last week, nearly two months after the Sept. 30 deadline to pass the bill. They added that staff is working on final language and getting final costs estimates from the Congressional Budget Office. A vote on the bill is expected to be delayed by up to two weeks.
Farm bill negotiations were discussed as part of a roundtable discussion by northern California farmers and U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, U.S. EPA Sec. Ryan Zinke and others while touring Northern California last week.
Perdue spoke of the desire by the Trump Administration and Republicans to include improved forest management provisions in the farm bill given the devastating wildfires affecting the state.
"We think what the House has proposed is very reasonable, allowing us to manage healthy forests to take away the fuels that contribute to the raving fires like we saw in Butte County," said Perdue, who toured the Paradise area to get a first-hand look at devastation caused by the deadly Camp Fire. "We've got others in the Senate who don't think that is reasonable."
Zinke noted, "(Sonny and I) have spent the last couple of days in Paradise looking at forest management practices to make sure that we realign and become more active in managing the forest in working with the state and local communities. That tragedy is the worst I've seen."
CFBF federal policy consultant Erin Huston said related to the forestry title, the word on the Hill is that the forest-thinning exemptions and other key provisions sought by Republicans were not included in the final version. However, she said, there are some enhancements that remain, such as to Good Neighbor Authority, which allows local governments to cooperate with the Forest Service in management of federal forestland.
Related to the nutrition title, Huston said, the House version aimed to expand work requirements for recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Those were also reportedly removed from the final bill.
"We obviously were firm about work requirements on supplemental nutrition, but with the voting change in the House that's probably a lost opportunity," Perdue said.
American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall said it is important that Congress passes a 2018 Farm Bill so farmers and ranchers have "continued access to risk management tools, assistance in foreign market development, and conservation and environmental stewardship programs."
"The farm bill and ag policy broadly remain bipartisan matters and we encourage both houses of Congress to approve this bill once it is finalized by House and Senate ag leaders," Duvall said. "These programs will help provide certainty to rural America at a time when it is much needed given the financial headwinds so many family farms now face."
(Christine Souza is an assistant editor of Ag Alert. She may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.)
Reprinted with permission: California Farm Bureau Federation