Farm Bill Details Begin to Surface

Leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees continue to keep most provisions of the farm bill agreement-in-principle they reached last week under wraps, waiting for the Congressional Budget Office to score some last-minute changes to make sure the bill is budget-neutral.

In addition, Congress and the President have agreed to fund federal agencies for another two weeks, postponing adjournment of the 115th Congress until Dec. 21 and giving farm bill negotiators more time to finish their work.

Release of the new bill text is now expected by Tuesday next week, after which members of the House-Senate conference committee will sign the conference report and the legislation will go to the Senate and House for final approval.

The major issue of tightening SNAP (food stamp) work requirements has been resolved, and Secretary Sonny Perdue has stated the Administration’s approval.  So if all goes as planned (sometimes a capital “if” in Washington), President Donald Trump will sign the bill into law before Congress adjourns, and a new farm bill will be in place before the Christmas Holiday.

While still unofficial, some of the farm bill provisions that ASA has been working on over the last two years have begun to emerge.  Below are some of the details we have learned in the last few days.  We will report on the entire bill when the text is released next week.

Title I (Commodities)

  • ARC and PLC are reauthorized, and improvements are made in the county ARC (ARC-CO) program to make it more equitable with the PLC program.
  • There will be four elections for PLC, ARC-CO, and ARC-IC:  one for 2019-2020 crops and annually for 2021, 2022, and 2023 crops.  PLC and ARC-CO elections will continue to be on a farm-by-farm and crop-by-crop basis.
  • Marketing assistance loan rates are increased an average of 15% for most commodities.  Soybeans are above $6.00.bu., up from the current $5.00/bu.
  • The cap on Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) for payment eligibility is maintained at $900,000.
  • The definition of “actively engaged” is broadened to include cousins, nieces and nephews.

ARC

  • RMA data will be used as the first data source rather than NASS data.
  • The county in which a farm is located will be used rather than the county where the FSA administrative office is located.
  • The plug yield is increased to 80% from 70% and use of a trend-adjusted yield is permitted.
  • The individual coverage option under ARC (ARC-IC) is continued.  A pilot program will allow up to 25 larger counties to be divided for ARC-IC coverage.
  • A floor price escalator is added (same as provided for reference prices in PLC).
  • The individual coverage option under ARC (ARC-IC) is continued.  A pilot program will allow up to 25 larger counties to be divided for ARC-IC coverage.

PLC

  • A yield update is allowed on a national rather than regional basis.
  • A reference price escalator is provided.

Title II (Conservation)

  • The Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) is continued as a stand-alone program rather than being folded into EQIP.
  • The cap on the Conservation Reserve Program is raised to 27 from 24 million acres, with two million of the increase reserved for grasslands.
  • CRP payments are set at 85% of local rental rates.

Title III (Trade)

Authorizations for MPA, FMD, Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops (TASC) and the Emerging Markets Program are combined, with minimum funding levels for each program continued at current levels.  Overall funding for export promotion is increased, with the total closer to the Senate level of $6 million per year.

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