Shutdown won’t delay farm bill implementation — USDA

Source: Marc Heller, E&E News reporter • Posted: Wednesday, February 6, 2019

The Department of Agriculture won’t use the four-week government shutdown as an excuse to slow implementation of the 2018 farm bill, Deputy Secretary Stephen Censky said today.

In a speech at a Farm Foundation forum, Censky said officials plan to make up for lost time on implementing the law, beginning with a series of “listening sessions” with farm policy stakeholders. He heads a working group at the agency overseeing implementation.

USDA will move ahead on implementation “just as quickly and as thoroughly as we can,” Censky added.

The farm bill, which President Trump signed in December, lays out programs throughout USDA, including ones on conservation, forest policy, commodity programs and low-income nutrition.

Censky said officials will soon announce a timeline for the listening sessions, but he didn’t offer a specific date by which the department aims to begin them.

“We want to hear from stakeholders,” Censky said.

He acknowledged that the shutdown temporarily halted most farm bill implementation but said that the Natural Resources Conservation Service was able to keep running on mandatory funding and is slightly ahead of other agencies in that work.

Among the bill’s highlights are a scaled-back Conservation Stewardship Program and increased funding for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. It also maintains the link between crop insurance and conservation compliance, and it boosts the production of industrial hemp by removing it from the federal list of controlled substances.