The Glasgow Courier - Serving Proudly As The Voice Of Valley County Since 1913

By A.J. Etherington
The Courier 

Senate Farm Bill Passes Committee Heads to Floor


In a 20-1 vote, the Senate Agriculture Committee cleared the way on June 13, for the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, or more commonly known as the farm bill, to move forward to the Senate for a vote. Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa cast the single vote opposing the bill’s advance reportedly due to the rejection of his amendment limiting subsidy payments. Montana Senator Steve Daines, a member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, voted in favor of the bill.

Highlights from the bill include the legalization of hemp as an industrial crop, a topic that has for some time been contentious. Just recently, a Helena area farmer took the federal government to court over water rights because she was growing hemp, a controlled substance under federal law.

Other issues tackled include the reauthorization of both Price Loss Coverage (PLC) and Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) insurance, which provide revenue loss protection for crop growers. The ARC and PLC programs were authorized in the 2014 farm bill and provide compensation at market value rates for crop loss.

On the conservation front, the 2018 farm bill will retain the Conservation Stewardship Program and will amend the Environmental Quality Incentive Program by increasing funding set aside for socially disadvantaged and new farmers. The bill will also increase the maximum acreage of the Conservation Reserve Program by adding to the incentive attractiveness for farmers.

The bill received praise from the National Wildlife Federation which said in a statement posted on their website, “The Senate Farm Bill has strong conservation provisions that will help protect soil, water and wildlife on private lands. Chairman Roberts and Ranking Member Stabenow deserve strong praise for their thoughtful work in drafting this measure. We are particularly pleased the manager’s amendment would double the amount of funding in the Environmental Quality Incentives Program dedicated to wildlife practices and would increase funding dedicated to the Voluntary Public Access Program, thanks to the efforts of Senators Bennet [D, Colorado] and Daines [R, Montana].”

On the livestock front, the bill increases measures to combat the spread of disease. Namely, the bill directs the United States Department of Agriculture to more actively fight the spread of Foot and Mouth Disease. The disease infects hoofed animals, including domestic cattle, and can cause serious problems for livestock farmers due to its highly contagious nature. Its dire effects on animals could result in vaccinations, strict monitoring, trade restrictions, quarantine and in some cases herd culling.

The Senate version of the farm bill would also reauthorize the Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative, a crucial element to the Northern Plains Agricultural Research Laboratory in Sidney, Mont. The lab focuses on scientific-based research in a diverse array of agricultural issues, practices and challenges. The Senate farm bill would also mandate funding for the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program which would provide organic certification cost share opportunities for producers and handlers of organic products nationwide.

Another key measure in the 2018 farm bill is the consolidation of the Market Access Program and the Foreign Market Development Program to create a new streamlined trade promotion initiative. According to the USDA website, the Foreign Market Development Program, “helps create, expand and maintain long-term export markets for U.S. agricultural products. Under the program, FAS partners with U.S. agricultural producers and processors, who are represented by non-profit commodity or trade associations called ‘cooperators,’ to promote U.S. commodities overseas.”

The last major element that directly affects northeast Montana is the continuation of critical USDA Rural Development Grants. These grants are intended to be used in rural areas to rebuild or construct water and wastewater infrastructure projects and can be used to expand access to broadband internet in rural areas.

According to Senator Jon Tester’s office, the Senate version of the Farm Bill is a plus for Montana. Tester released a statement saying, “Agriculture is Montana’s number one industry,” adding, “This legislation reflects the priorities and input I heard from producers during my Farm Bill listening sessions. Nobody knows the importance of the Farm Bill like the families who make their living off the land.”

As a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Senator Steve Daines played a direct role in shaping the bill. According to a statement released by his office, he supported or directly proposed 16 initiatives that were included in the measure directly affecting forest management, agriculture and rural communities. Daines said in that same statement, “This proposal is good news for Montana farmers and ranchers. As the Farm Bill moves forward, I will continue to fight for Montana agriculture and for responsible forest management that supports Montana jobs and contributes to healthier, safer forests.”

A U.S. House of Representatives’ version of the farm bill had not cleared committee as of press time, but was in the works. The full Senate is expected to vote on their version of the farm bill prior to the Fourth of July holiday. Once the House and Senate pass their bills, they will go to conference to reconcile the two bills and form the final version which should be signed into law by the President.


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