With House and Senate approval of the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018, odds are good that farmers and ranchers will be toasting the new year with federal farm policy firmly in place.
The new farm bill provides a projected $428 billion in funding over five years for vast array of programs. The majority of the budget, 76 percent, goes to nutrition programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.
Crop insurance, conservation and commodity programs account for 23 percent of anticipated farm bill spending. The remaining funding would support programs in the areas of trade, rural development, energy, forestry, horticulture, research and extension, credit and miscellaneous other items.
The most important thing about the new farm bill is that Congress “got one done before the end of the year … we’re not starting over with a new Congress,” Andrew Walmsley, American Farm Bureau Federation’s director of congressional relations, said.
The bill provides five years of certainty on risk-management programs, crop insurance and other programs, he said.
The bill awaiting President Trump’s signature lets agriculture know what the ground rules are, although it still has to go through implementation with USDA, he said.
“Overall, it’s a pretty good bill in a very tough political climate,” he said.
One of the key outcomes of the new farm bill is that crop insurance is protected, providing another five years of a good crop insurance program, he said.
“It’s a vital tool for both farmers and lenders,” he said.
The bill expands insurance coverage to hemp and forage and grazing crops, providing separate policies for crops, such as winter wheat, that can be both grazed and harvested. It also instructs the Risk Management Agency to focus on improving insurance for crops affected by hurricanes and tropical storms, different irrigation systems, losses in crop quality and grain sorghum.
The legislation makes improvements on a good existing program, he said.
Improvements were also made to the Agricultural Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage programs by updating the election process, he said.
The new policy allows producers to choose between the two programs on an annual basis beginning in 2121 on a crop-by-crop and farm-by-farm basis. It also allows farmers to update program yields, and it adjusts reference prices when market prices improve and increases marketing assistance loan rates.
“For dairy, the new margin coverage program is a big win,” he said.
The bill adds higher coverage levels for a farmer’s first 5 million pounds of milk and expands the range of production a farmer can insure — 5 percent to 95 percent. It also reduces premiums for insured milk in excess of 5 million pounds.
Livestock producers will also benefit from the $300 million over 10 years targeted for animal disease prevention and management, which includes funding for a foot and mouth disease vaccine bank and the new National Animal Disease Preparedness and Response Program.
Being prepared and able to respond to an international disease making its way to the U.S. was one of the biggest priorities for livestock producers to protect the U.S. industry, he said.
Conservation programs mostly stayed the same but with some improvements, he said.
The acreage cap in the Conservation Reserve Program was increased to 27 million acres and includes 2 million acres for grassland to provide more flexibility for grazing. It also reduced county rental rates and incentive payments.
It allows CRP to target the most sensitive lands without tying up land for beginning farmers and ranchers, he said.
The bill increases funding for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and makes changes to the Conservation Stewardship Program to make it more attractive and provide better funding for projects, he said.
In the area of trade, the bill retains most of the major marketing programs with $255 million annually. It also creates some baseline funding for those programs, which is important so they can continue in the next farm bill, he said.
It also provides $3.5 million annually to USDA to move around between the programs when trying to expand trade, he said.
The bill adds investment in rural broadband access and infrastructure and addresses the opioid crisis, stress and mental health in rural communities, he said.
A lot was also done for beginning farmers and military veterans in providing outreach and qualifying them for programs, he said.
Overall, it’s the best bill possible within the constraints of staying budget-neutral, he said.
“You don’t ever get everything you ask for. But at the end of the day, this is a pretty good farm bill,” he said.