The Farm Bill Conference committee released the final farm bill report on Monday evening and had the agriculture community full of excitement while they scurried for details. The House of Representatives put the bill on their legislative calendar first, bringing it to the House floor on Monday morning and voting favorably on final passage with a 251-166 vote. The Senate has scheduled their vote on the conference report for sometime next week. NAWG is very excited that after a three year long process the farm bill looks likely to pass through Congress and be signed by the President.
Crop Insurance – Title XI
Crop insurance has been the number one priority for NAWG throughout this farm bill process and we feel very confident that this bill provides our growers with the necessary tools to effectively and efficiently feed the nation. NAWG is supportive of the new Supplemental Coverage Option (SCO) which will enable producers to buy supplemental area-wide coverage in addition to their traditional multi-peril individual farm coverage. SCO will use a county-level trigger to insure crops against losses that are not covered by their individual policies providing our growers with additional options. NAWG is also very supportive of other additions to the crop insurance title such as: establishing separate enterprise units for irrigated and non-irritated crops as well as making enterprise units permanent; increased transitional yield plug and a 10 percent premium subsidy increase for beginning farmers and authorization for development of a personal transitional yield for wheat growers. All of these things fall in line with NAWG’s policies and make sure that we have a strong crop insurance program for our growers.
Commodity Programs – Title I
NAWG is supportive of providing a multi-legged safety net programs in Title I for our growers, which we feel is accomplished in this bill. NAWG’s number one priority for Title I was to have a revenue-based program with a farm-level trigger in order to accommodate a number of our wheat states that have extremely large county sizes. This bill provides that individual coverage through the Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) program. Individual ARC will be paid on 65 percent of base acres and calculates revenue on a whole farm multi-crop basis, while the county coverage will be paid on 85 percent of base acres and calculates revenue on a commodity basis. Additionally, this bill provides coverage for when market prices fall below a certain trigger through the Price Loss Coverage (PLC) program. Producers will have a one-time choice to enroll in one of these two programs on a crop-by-crop and farm-by-farm basis. NAWG believes that these programs provide a multi-legged safety net that is needed to cover the diversity not only in wheat but all other program crops.
Trade – Title III
The trade title contained several provisions important to America’s wheat farmers. The most important of these is the continuation of full mandatory funding of the Market Access Program (MAP) and Foreign Market Development program (FMD), which provide funding to U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) cooperator organizations, such as U.S. Wheat Associates, to market and build customer bases abroad for American products. This is especially helpful for the American wheat industry as about half of the wheat grown annually is exported abroad. Title III also reauthorizes international food aid programs through fiscal year 2018. Food aid programs, such as Food for Peace and Food for Progress, provide food for millions of people in need around the world every year and are a point of pride for American farmers. Wheat is the number one commodity used in these programs. This bill also included changes to the GSM-102 export credit guarantee program to settle the long-running Brazil Cotton World Trade Organization (WTO) dispute.
Conservation – Title II
The conservation title of the farm bill conference report maintains a strong commitment to working lands conservation and streamlines and consolidates conservation programs and but adds conservation compliance requirements to crop insurance. The bill retains the Conservation Reserve Program but decreases the enrollment cap to 24 million acres by 2018 and includes and options for early release from certain contracts. The Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Conservation Stewardship Program remain mostly unchanged, however funding and annual enrollment are decreased. The bill consolidates the Farmland Protection Program, the Wetland Reserve Program and grassland easements into one easement program. The bill also creates a new partnership program that utilizes several conservation programs and funding from non-federal partners.
The bill requires highly erodible conservation (HEL) and wetland compliance to receive federal crop insurance premiums based on the date of enactment of the bill. Producers have five years to comply with HEL requirements if they have not previously been subject to HEL requirements. Any penalties for violations will be on future premium subsidies. Producers currently in compliance due to participation in commodity and conservation programs will be in compliance with the new requirements.
Research – Title VII
Title VII, the research title of the farm bill, authorizes several programs that are vital to America’s wheat producers. Included in the title is $10 million per year to support Fusarium, or Scab research, until 2018.
Title VII also establishes a new Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research. The 15-member board would be nominated by the National Academy of Sciences and Industry. The Foundation will provide $200 million to supplement USDA’s basic and applied research activities in several areas, including addressing key problems of national and international significance in plant health, production and plant products.
The bill also authorizes the USDA Chief Economist to enter into agreements with several Policy Research Centers that will develop research methods to inform agricultural policy.
Finally, the bill includes a provision for the Agricultural Genome Initiative encouraging the awarding of grants to groups of researchers rather than individual institutions, in addition to authorizing $1 million for the National Agricultural Weather Information Service.
Energy – Title IX
NAWG supported the continuation of a strong energy title and the farm bill conference report includes over $800 million in energy program spending. The Rural Energy for America Program (REAP) that provides assistance to producers to complete projects such as energy efficiency improvements and energy audits is continued along with the Biomass Crop Assistance Program (BCAP). BCAP provides financial assistance to producers in selected project areas to establish and produce biomass feedstock such as switchgrass. The bill also continues the Biomass Research and Development Initiative and the Bioenergy Program for Advanced Biofuels.