While the next farm bill is still a work in progress, the House Agricultural Committee is sending its version for mark-up next week, moving it forward to a floor vote.
There are hard decisions to make, and they won’t be any easier and legislators won’t be any smarter come October, Committee Chairman Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas, told reporters in a telephone press conference on Thursday.
“I’m driven to get it done on time,” before the current farm bill expires, he said.
“Rural America deserves the certainty of knowing what the next five-year policy will look like,” he said.
Aside from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program portion, the rest of the titles were negotiated in a bipartisan manner. Nevertheless, Democrats say they won’t support the bill, he said.
“I think there’s still a lot of misinformation, either intentional or unintentional,” in the SNAP arena, he said.
No funding was taken from the program, but the bill requires work-able adults between 18 and 59 to work at least 20 hours a week or be in some sort of state training program to participate.
Three years of work resulted in a “defendable policy that helps break the cycle of poverty for folks who want to get out of it,” he said.
That policy provides a funded mandate to states to set up case-management and assessment programs, as well as supervised job search and apprenticeship programs.
On the farm front, the committee had no new money to work with and had to move money around to address priorities and new challenges, he said.
One of those new challenges is the risk of foot and mouth disease, and the bill provides $150 million in the first year to get the vaccine bank off the ground, he said.
“It’s the one big-ticket new item that came out of all of our discussions with not only the livestock folks but also the security issues surrounding that piece as well,” he said.
The livestock industry was asking for $150 million a year for five years. Once the bank is established and the mechanics are worked out, it will be easier to get additional resources if needed, he said.
“We don’t provide as much as the industry asks for, but we’ve got a really good step forward,” he said.
One of the biggest concerns in farm country is crop insurance. Some money was moved around, but there are no substantial changes to the program, he said.
“It’s too important a program to mess with, and we believe it’s working,” he said.
But there might be some threats to the program on the House Floor, he said.
In other areas, the bill increases acres in the Conservation Reserve Program by resetting rental rates, which were disconnected from today’s commodity prices. It also folds money for the Conservation Stewardship Program into the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, which gets more bang for the buck, he said.
The bill also switches the data base for the Agricultural Risk Coverage program from the National Agricultural Statistics Service to the Risk Management Agency to address the discrepancy between county payments between contiguous counties.
No funding cuts were made to agricultural research, but there were no big increases either. The committee came to understand that states need to invest more money into aging research facilities but, unfortunately, it wasn’t able to address that in the farm bill. Hopefully it will be addressed in another bill, such as infrastructure funding, he said.