Farm groups welcomed news that negotiators had reached agreement on a new farm bill, but key details were being kept under wraps while lawmakers waited to learn whether the final cost estimates would force them to tweak the text.
Senate Agriculture Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., said he hoped to have the bill on the Senate floor next week. Speaking early Thursday afternoon, he said no problems had cropped up to that point with the Congressional Budget Office cost estimates. But he said it could be early next week before negotiators are ready to brief colleagues on the bill.
President Donald Trump is expected to sign the bill, said House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas.
Roberts, Conaway and the ranking Democrats on the House and Senate committees, Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson and Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, formally announced the deal in a joint statement Thursday morning.
“We’re pleased to announce that we’ve reached an agreement in principle on the 2018 Farm Bill," they said. "We are working to finalize legal and report language as well as CBO scores, but we still have more work to do. We are committed to delivering a new farm bill to America as quickly as possible."
The bill would largely leave the major commodity and conservation programs intact, but sources said the agreement would allow cousins, nieces and nephews to qualify for commodity program payments, and the adjusted gross income limit for subsidy recipients would stay at $900,000 a year. The Senate version would have lowered the AGI limit to $700,000.
Reference prices in the Price Loss Coverage would not be changed, but producers would be allowed to update yields in some cases. The final bill also would allow yield updates for drought and other issues, an expansion of a provision in the House-passed bill that was limited to drought. a source said.
The bill would leave the Conservation Stewardship Program as a standalone program, The House bill would have folded it into the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.
Roberts confirmed that the bill’s nutrition title would be more in line with the Senate version rather than the House measure, which would have tightened work requirements and eligibility rules for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
“It focuses on program integrity. I’d say it’s a better bill,” Roberts said.
Sources have said the negotiators would leave it up to the Trump administration to go forward with a rule that would make it harder for states to get waivers from the existing work rules. However, the rule could be challenged in court, a better outcome from Democrats’ perspective than writing new waiver restrictions into law.
A member of the House Agriculture Committee, Roger Marshall, R-Kan., said he expected a majority of the 236 House Republicans to support the final bill although it won’t have as much GOP support as the version that passed the House in June on a party-line vote, 213-211.
“I’m not going to promise we're going to have as many (Republicans) as we did on the first go around,” Marshall said.
But he said the nutrition title in the final bill would likely have “significant efficiencies in the SNAP program, and Americans will be happy with that.”
Rep. Jim McGovern, D.Mass, a fierce critic of the House bill, said he was told that he would be happy with the nutrition title in the final version.
Supporters of legalizing industrial hemp, meanwhile, said they were confident that the final bill would include provisions demanded by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., to facilitate that crop’s production. The provisions, which included making the crop eligible for crop insurance, were included in the Senate-passed bill.
In a tweet Thursday, McConnell said he was pleased "my provision to legalize industrial hemp is included in the Farm Bill."
While farm groups were relieved to see the finish line on the legislation, they also were eagerly awaiting details, which House and Senate Agriculture committee aides have kept tightly under wraps. For example, one representative of a major livestock group said it couldn't still get a figure Thursday on funding for an animal disease vaccine bank expected to be authorized in the legislation. Aides said they needed to see the final CBO scores for the bill.
Jimmie Musick, president of the National Association of Wheat Growers, praised the negotiators for reaching a deal.
“This past year our growers have dealt with the impact of the trade war between U.S. and China, extreme weather conditions, and a struggling rural economy and more. Farm Bill support programs provide them with some certainty during these volatile times,” he said.
Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union, said the new farm bill “is critical for the long-term viability and sustainability of family farmers and ranchers across the country. Farmers are enduring a growing financial crisis in the farm economy, and programs that support farm sustainability and diverse markets for family farmers have expired.”
Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, urged lawmakers to pass the bill.
“Continued access to risk management tools, assistance in foreign market development, and conservation and environmental stewardship programs within the legislation are especially important for farmers and ranchers,” he said. “These programs will help provide certainty to rural America at a time when it is much needed given the financial headwinds so many family farms now face.
Updated at 9 p.m. with additional details of agreement.
For more news, go to Agri-Pulse.com.