Representatives from Washington’s ag community and U.S. lawmakers say the recently passed farm bill is important for providing certainty for the state’s farmers and will bolster their efforts related to crop insurance and market access as they navigate barriers related to trade negotiations.
The former farm bill expired Sept. 30, leaving several federal agricultural programs in an uncertain state. Northwest farmers indicated they were worried they would lose benefits under those programs which included new farmer mentoring, foreign trade promotion, research and subsidies until U.S. lawmakers could agree on a replacement bill.
The House and Senate participated in a Farm Bill Conference Committee meeting on Sept. 5, and leaders from both chambers’ ag committees announced both sides had reached an agreement on Nov. 29. This week, the Senate voted 87-13 to pass the 2018 Farm Bill, and the U.S. House of Representatives followed suit in a 369-47 vote.
The $867 billion Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 has since been sent to President Donald Trump’s desk to be signed into law.
That bill will last five years and contains aspects from both chambers’ bills, however it rejects the House bill’s additional work requirements for keeping Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) benefits. The legislation would promote agricultural research, assist growers in strengthening existing markets and help them break into new markets, enlarges the safety net for farmers and expands some federal subsidies to relatives of farmers.
Kate Tynan, Vice President of the Northwest Horticultural Council (NHC), told Lens the council was pleased with the decisive and quick movement through both chambers following the release of the conference report.
“We were really pushing to get this across the finish line before the end of the year to provide our members some certainty going into next year with these programs.”
NHC is a big supporter of market access programs, which is one component of the broader trade program allowed under the bill. Those efforts benefit Washington’s apple, pear and cherry growers and works to expand existing markets overseas or help gain access to new markets, which Tynan says is “especially critical” when considering the status of trade negotiations.
Washington farmers will also benefit from the reauthorization of the Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops (TASC) program under the bill, which helps farmers navigate unexpected market barriers.
“If this bill had not passed, they would have had to continue the current farm bill and that program would have gone away unless new funding was found,” said Tynan.
Another big win was made within the research realm, she added. The Specialty Crop Research Initiative is valuable for promoting research and has been beneficial for Washington’s ag industry, and that program will now be able to continue its funding.
“We were very pleased with what the final bill looked like,” said Tynan. “Both the House and Senate version at least maintain the status quo for the programs important for our industry.
“Overall, we felt both bills were strong going into this conference agreement, and what came out was very good,” Tynan continued.
She added that NHC is hopeful that Trump will sign the bill based on supportive statements he has made about the legislation.
Washington Farm Bureau (WFB) CEO John Stuhlmiller told Lens that the legislation addresses every area that WFB was most concerned with.
“For ag, we’ve been running on the short, limited reauthorizations of things. It’s very exciting to have five-year certainty; here are what the programs are for five years, not just six months…that provides a lot of stability for the industry.”
He added that much of the farm bill does not apply to Washington ag directly because only the major commodities are included in the policy, however provisions regarding the crop insurance program and the research and development of crops and disease resistance are significant for Washington growers.
Michelle Hennings, Executive Director of Washington Association of Wheat Growers (WAWG), told Lens: “Us wheat growers are ecstatic that the Senate and House of Representatives took quick action in bipartisan votes…we are urging President Trump to sign the bill as soon as he can.”
Hennings said the bill adds a new provision which allows producers to choose between Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC) programs. They act as risk management tools that provide payments in response to crop price decline or revenue losses.
“The difference is that they are going to be able to have a reelection opportunity on a farm-by-farm and crop-by-crop basis,” she said. “We did see a situation where our price dropped dramatically, and a lot of farmers had one program and would have liked to switch to the other.”
Hennings added that the farm bill’s sections related to foreign markets are especially important for Washington’s wheat sector because 90 percent of Washington wheat is exported.
In reaction to the bill’s passage, U.S. Rep. Dan Newhouse (R-Washington) said: “As a third-generation Yakima Valley farmer, I know the Farm Bill plays an enormously important role in Central Washington’s agriculture economy by delivering a secure safety net for farmers and providing for research that keeps us on the cutting edge of global innovation.”
Newhouse added that he would have liked to see stronger provisions related to forestry management and improved nutrition programs.
U.S. Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Washington) in a recent statement said: “Passing the Farm Bill is a huge investment in Washington state’s agricultural economy. Our crops, including our world leading pulse and specialty crops, will get a boost from hundreds of millions of dollars that will be invested into critical research programs.”
Agricultural groups were told that Trump is expected to sign the legislation into law on Dec. 20.