Senate Farm Bill Could Help Ease Farm Country Trade Worries

Source: By Teaganne Finn, Bloomberg • Posted: Wednesday, June 13, 2018

The Senate farm bill could ease the minds of farmers worried about a potential international trade war by keeping funding for trade-oriented ag programs and creating a new one for specialty crops.

The Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, released by the Senate Agriculture Committee June 8, is set to be marked up June 13. The legislation would reauthorize various commodity, trade, rural development, agricultural research, and food and nutrition programs. Under the current farm law (Public Law No. 113-79), program authorizations will expire Sept. 30 or the end of the applicable crop year.

With the House farm bill (H.R. 2) stalled, the Senate bill is seen as the most likely starting point for potential changes in farm programs as part of a multi-year reauthorization. While the House bill was voted down in late May by a small group of House Republican defectors joining House Democrats in opposition, Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) and top panel Democrat Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) have said they are taking a bipartisan approach to their bill.

Trade Support

Farmers have been on the edge of their seats throughout President Donald Trump’s trade disputes and tariff threats, worried that agricultural products could take the biggest blow from counter tariffs.

The Senate Ag draft would authorize a $6 million annual increase in funding for its trade provisions and maintains funding for the Market Access Program and Foreign Market Cooperator Program, senior committee aides told reporters.

It would also establish an export assistance program for specialty crops “to address existing or potential unique barriers that prohibit or threaten the export of United States specialty crops,” according to the draft bill.

The American Farm Bureau applauded the measure’s trade language.

“Farm income is at a decade low,” said AFBF President Zippy Duvall in a press release. “Farm debt is on the rise and international markets for our farm goods are in jeopardy.”

Stark SNAP Differences

The Senate measure does not include sweeping changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps like the House measure, which failed on the floor in part because of Democrats opposition to stricter work requirements.

The Senate bill would allow for increased funding for pilot programs that study the effectiveness of job-training for SNAP recipients. In addition, the draft calls for another pilot program that studies the verification of earned income of SNAP applicant households.

One group that has been critical of proposed changes to SNAP, the liberal Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, said the Senate bill represented sound policy.

“Throughout SNAP’s history, policymakers have made most reforms and program improvements on a bipartisan basis. This proposal stands squarely within that tradition,” said CBPP President Robert Greenstein.