Roberts says farm bill could be set Monday

Source: Marc Heller, E&E News reporter • Posted: Friday, November 16, 2018

Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts said today he thinks a 2018 farm bill could take shape by Monday, a day after he and House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway appeared at odds on the measure.

“We’re very close now,” Roberts (R-Kan.) told reporters, adding that conservation programs remain among the last items to be negotiated.

“I think we could have a bill ready by Monday, I hope so,” Roberts said.

The chairman’s optimistic tone was an about-face from yesterday, when he told reporters that Conaway (R-Texas) was slowing progress with late counteroffers on a variety of policy issues. Conaway, in turn, said Roberts had taken more than a week to respond to House offers (E&E Daily, Nov. 15).

“Things have really progressed a lot more smoothly here in the last day,” Roberts said.

Major points of difference have centered on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — the costliest program in the five-year bill — and how to enforce employment requirements. But today, Roberts cited conservation as a loose end, including the Conservation Reserve Program.

The CRP pays farmers to not plant crops on certain acres, instead growing grass or other cover crops that aren’t harvested but can sometimes be grazed. Both versions of the bill would raise the 24-million-acre cap on CRP, with the House offering a slightly higher cap than the Senate would, and lawmakers are weighing how restrictive to be about grazing depending on drought conditions, for instance.

“It’s all about CRP and what you could do with those acres, things like that,” Roberts said, adding those details are caught up in talks between Senate Agriculture ranking member Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and the House committee’s ranking member, Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.).

Peterson is one of Congress’ most outspoken proponents of expanding the acreage for the CRP.

“These are not things that we can’t work out,” Roberts said.

A group of environmental, conservation and farm groups today urged negotiators to adopt a version resembling the Senate bill, turning away the House’s employment-related provisions on SNAP and cuts to programs such as the Conservation Stewardship Program.