Farm bill passage planned by spring

Source: Marc Heller, E&E News reporter • Posted: Thursday, January 11, 2018

House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway said yesterday his panel aims to pass a farm bill in the first three months of this year.

With that timeline, the Texas Republican said, legislation should be ready for release in the committee in the coming weeks.

“We’re still working on the details, but soon,” Conaway told E&E News. “Right now, it’s relatively smooth because we’re still in our draft stage.”

The current farm bill expires in September. It’s typically a five-year bill, but the latest version wasn’t enacted until 2014 after committee action that began in 2012.

The emerging theme for this year’s renewal is to preserve voluntary conservation programs, protect crop insurance in a time of falling farm incomes, and fix aspects of the dairy and cotton programs that have left farmers vulnerable to downturns.

A periodic debate over funding to nutrition programs is unfolding, as well, with conservative Republicans likely to push for cuts and perhaps separating the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program from the bill — a legislative goal that has never gone far with committee leaders in either chamber.

Conaway said he has also been working with staff from Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue’s office in drafting the bill, with the administration offering expertise and a wealth of information on farming.

“We’ll have a much more fulsome conversation with the general public soon,” Conaway said.

Conaway and Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) have said protecting crop insurance is a top priority, and President Trump told the American Farm Bureau Federation he supports the issue in the farm bill.

The debate over crop insurance is likely, as in past cycles, to touch on conservation, as well, as some groups urge closer connections between insurance subsidies and farm conservation compliance. Other groups oppose crop insurance subsidies more broadly.

“We’ll continue to see if there are some improvements,” Conaway said.

“There’s plenty of opportunity to fight off draconian changes to the program that would decimate it,” he said. “I understand that there are those out there that dislike crop insurance, and they don’t have the votes to kill it in its entirety. They think they have the votes to stab it to death, and we’re going to try to prevent that.”