Farmers watching farm bill progress intently

Published 10:30 am Wednesday, March 21, 2018

Virginia Farm Bureau

The nation’s top farm legislation is up for renewal this year. But delays in producing the first draft of the 2018 Farm Bill, in addition to four years of declining crop prices, have many farmers concerned.

“Based on USDA projections, the Golden Age of commodity prices is over,” shared Dr. John Newton, director of market intelligence for the American Farm Bureau Federation. “Farm income is estimated to total $59.5 billion this year, 50 percent less than in 2013.”

In fact, price projections for corn, cotton, soybeans and wheat are expected to trend even lower over the next decade, Newton told members of the Virginia Farm Bureau Federation Soybean and Feed Grains Advisory Committee on March 14. The farm bill has been around since 1933 and typically is renewed every five years.

The first draft of the latest bill was expected to be revealed by the end of March but has been delayed.

“We know there’s language written; it’s been sent out to be evaluated by the Congressional Budget Office,” Newton said. “There’s already been pushback from some lawmakers about proposals to require recipients of nutrition benefits to work in exchange for benefits.”

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and other food aid programs account for approximately 80 percent of total farm bill spending. Proposals to shift some of the aid from a SNAP voucher that can be used in stores to a monthly shipment of staple food items has added some controversy.

“SNAP will be a tough issue to navigate the next few weeks,” Newton noted. “I wouldn’t be surprised to see some form of Harvest Box program as a pilot under the next bill.”

Nutritional aid joined other federal farm programs like conservation efforts, crop insurance and commodity programs in the 1973 Farm Bill, Newton said, and Farm Bureau does not support any effort to separate them.

“That’s critically important,” he explained, because any legislation needs 218 votes to pass the House of Representatives. If the non-agriculture sections were stripped out, the majority of urban and suburban legislators would not be interested in supporting the bill.

“Besides, the percentage of recipients in rural areas who benefit from SNAP is actually quite high,” he added.

Farm Bureau also is a strong proponent of keeping and improving the federal crop insurance program. Farmers and their lenders need stability, and crop insurance is a means of providing assistance to growers during times of crop losses.

“We’re very concerned anytime someone proposes cutting crop insurance. We know how important that is to producers,” Newton said.