A House stopgap spending bill aimed at avoiding an Oct. 1 government shutdown ensures that trade assistance to farmers will continue and also bolsters specialty crop research and funds USDA’s coming hemp program. 

The continuing resolution, which cleared the House 301-123 Thursday, also includes a provision sought by a Minnesota sugarbeet cooperative to allow it to qualify for disaster aid. 

In addition to keeping the government funded when the new fiscal year starts in October, the measure also would replenish the Commodity Credit Corp. borrowing authority that USDA is using to make trade aid payments under the Market Facilitation Program. 

But the legislation would require USDA to provide by Oct. 31 estimates for its Market Facilitation Program payments along with an analysis of the trade damages used to calculate them. The report would have to detail all trade assistance given to companies that are foreign owned. 

House Agriculture Chairman Collin Peterson, who said he talked Democratic leaders into replenishing the CCC account, issued a statement Thursday praising them “for ensuring that farmers can have the certainty this assistance will continue. 

“The call for more transparency in this program is a good one, and I appreciate their willingness to ensure that help gets out the door in a timely manner to the farmers who need it, while at the same time enabling the taxpayer to see where those funds are going.”

But Mike Conaway, the top Republican on the committee, said this report adds to an already lengthy agenda for USDA. 

"Now we've added another report due by October 31st to that workload," Conaway, R-Texas, said at a Thursday hearing of a House Ag subcommittee. "And shame on us for doing that."

The CR, which would fund the government through Nov. 21, also includes $16.4 million for USDA’s Agricultural Marketing Service to implement a new hemp production program required by the 2018 farm bill. 

USDA expects to issue an interim final rule this fall that will guide domestic hemp production for the 2020 growing season, including a process for the submission of state and tribal plans to USDA and for testing protocols for THC levels.

Another provision would waive a matching requirement for the Specialty Crop Research Initiative, which is funded at $80 million a year under the 2018 farm bill. The farm bill also expanded the program’s research priorities to include perennials, pollinators, invasive species, pesticide drift, as well as mechanization and automation. 

The continuing resolution also includes a disaster-assistance provision sought by the Southern Minnesota Beet Sugar Cooperative in Renville, Minn., which estimates that it lost $100 million because of this year’s flooding. 

USDA officials have told the co-op it couldn’t receive disaster benefits directly under this year’s disaster-aid bill, a source said. The co-op believes that’s unfair to its members because they don’t get paid for the sugar they sell to the co-op is processed and sold; the growers sold their sugar at different times and some had crop insurance while others didn’t. 

The CR provision is intended to ensure that co-op can apply for direct payments. 

This story has been updated to include additional details and comments. 

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