Patrick J. Leahy

06/29/2018 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 06/29/2018 11:43

Summary Of The 2018 Farm Bill Markup

06.29.18

Office Of Senator Patrick Leahy

Vermont Highlights
In The Senate Farm Bill

WASHINGTON (FRIDAY, June 29, 2018) - The five-year Farm Bill that cleared the U.S. Senate Thursday night includes significant wins for Vermont families, organic and dairy farms and rural development priorities. As a leading member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) played the key role in shaping provisions that are important to Vermont's economy, Vermont farmers, the food and nutrition of Vermont's families, and the economic vitality of communities throughout the state.

The Senate-passed bill is far more balanced than the version passed by the House, which includes harmful cuts to important nutrition programs. The House and Senate next will go to conference to reconcile differences between the two bills, and a final bill must be signed by the President.

Leahy released this summary of Vermont highlights in the Senate-passed bill:

Dairy and Commodity Programs

Dairy Risk Coverage - In February 2018, Senator Leahy led improvements to the Margin Protection Program (MPP) that were included in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018. These improvements included an immediate reopening of MPP signup so farmers could take advantage of the new meaningful levels of risk protection at more affordable rates. Vermont farmers who signed up for the program will see guaranteed money for the first few months of this year. The improvements now require MPP to do calculations and potential payments on a monthly basis to improve accuracy and timeliness. Premium costs for Tier I enrollment were cut by nearly 70 percent and the Tier I threshold for lower premium costs now apply to the first 5 million pounds of production, up from the previous level of 4 million pounds. This better aligns with the median U.S. dairy farm size.

As dairy farmers continue to face difficulties, Senator Leahy recognizes the importance of providing and improving upon critical safety nets, and so the 2018 Farm Bill includes higher coverage level thresholds at $8.50 and $9.00, raises the catastrophic margin level to $5.00, and keeps premium costs lower than they were originally established in the 2014 Farm Bill and offers a small and medium farm discount for farms with less than 2 million pounds of historic production and for farms with between 2 and 10 million pounds of production. These improvements should make the newly named Dairy Risk Coverage program more affordable and will work better for Vermont's family farmers. The House Farm Bill also makes changes to the dairy safety net, however it locks farmers in to their original signup level for the duration of the Farm Bill. The Senate changes provide flexibility for farmers to change their coverage or leave the program during the life of the Farm Bill.

Dairy Product Donation Program - The Senate Farm Bill also creates a new Milk Donation Program to reimburse eligible dairy organizations for the costs of donating milk. Dairy cooperatives and dairy processors will have the opportunity to enter into an agreement with USDA to be reimbursed for donating eligible milk that is used as nutrition assistance for low-income individuals. This bill provides $8 million for this program in fiscal year 2019 and $5 million each fiscal year after. The House of Representatives version of the Farm Bill does not include any comparable donation programs and instead repeals an existing Dairy Product Donation Program that was established in the 2014 Farm Bill.

Targeting Farm Safety Net Programs - The Senate bill restores commonsense rules and fiscal integrity to farm commodity programs to properly target farm safety net programs and to ensure a degree of price and income protection to farmers, while eliminating previous loopholes that had allowed some wealthy non-farm investors to collect millions of dollars in benefits, which some claimed had shut out young and beginning farmers from the land market. This is a much-needed reform to end the practice of skirting the established statutory limits, which allowed some farms to collect many multiples of the established limit for a single farming operation.

Conservation

Environmental Quality Incentives Program - The Senate Farm Bill includes improvements to the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) led by Senator Leahy. EQIP helps farmers prevent agricultural runoff and has been an important tool for Vermont farmers to address nitrogen and phosphorus runoff that has affected water quality in Lake Champlain. The program is extended through fiscal year 2023 and includes changes that will help improve EQIP practices and provide better understanding for how those practices lead to quality conservation outcomes.

Agricultural Lands Easement Program - Senator Leahy led changes in the 2018 Senate Farm Bill to increase the flexibility and add mandatory funding to the Agricultural Lands Easement (ALE) Program. The 2014 Farm Bill combined the Farmland Protection Program and the Grassland Reserve Program to create the ALE Program. ALE operates through state and local partners to provide permanent protection for working agricultural lands and to promote agricultural viability for future generations.

Regional Equity - The Senate Farm Bill maintains the Regional Equity Program which Senator Leahy initiated in the 2002 Farm Bill. This program brings greater conservation resources to Vermont and other Northeastern States. In the 2014 Farm Bill, changes engineered by Leahy were made to ensure that Vermont and other smaller states received a fair distribution of USDA conservation funds.

Conservation Compliance for Crop Insurance - This Farm Bill maintains important conservation compliance requirements for commodity producers who receive crop insurance. These requirements ensure that environmentally sensitive land such as highly erodible cropland, wetlands, and vulnerable land that has never been farmed, are protected. Most producers are already required to follow these compliance rules because of other USDA benefits they receive. In Vermont, dairy farmers receiving support have long complied with conservation programs, leading to improved water quality and a reduction in environmental damage.

Regional Conservation Partnership Program - The Senate Farm Bill doubles the mandatory funding for the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) to $200 million. The bill also makes critical reforms to focus on conservation outcomes, allow organizations to receive funding for outreach and technical assistance, and increase the allocation of funds going to state-level and local conservation projects. The House of Representatives version of the bill does not include any of the Senate reforms.

Pollinator Habitat Development and Protection - This Farm Bill requires that in carrying out any conservation program administered by the Secretary of Agriculture, the Secretary shall encourage the development of a conservation and recovery plan for protection of pollinators through practices to integrate natural predators and parasites of crop pests into agricultural systems for pest control. In addition, the bill also encourages training for farmers to implement and promote ways to conserve or enhance natural habitat for beneficial insects as a way of reducing pest problems cutting down on pesticide applications.

Hunger Safety Net

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program - Even as the economy has improved, toomany Americans still struggle to put food on their tables. For these families, nutrition assistance such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and emergency assistance programs are crucial.

In Vermont, recent surveys show that 14 percent of children and 10 percent of all households are food insecure, leaving families relying on federal and state programs such as SNAP (renamed 3SquaresVT in Vermont), WIC, and the federal School Lunch and Breakfast Programs.

The 2018 Senate Farm Bill maintains strong support for critical nutrition programs such as SNAP and does not contain the harmful cuts to benefits and eligibility we saw from the partisan House draft. The Senate bill builds upon successful workforce training programs particularly for those who are suffering from addiction and improves access to fresh fruit and vegetables for SNAP participants. The bill also makes it easier for farmer's markets to accept SNAP benefits and promotes farm fresh food programs and local food banks.

Organics and Local Food

Organic Research- The 2018 Senate Farm Bill reauthorizes the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative and provides mandatory funding of $40 million for the first two years of the Farm Bill, increasing that level to $50 million by fiscal year 2022 and for each year after. This guarantees baseline funding in future farm bills for the important research being done to help our organic producers increase their production and reduce costs while adhering to the sustainable and ecosystem enriching values of the organic industry.

Organic Certification Cost-Share Program - Senator Leahy is pleased that this Farm Bill renews funding for the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program at $11.5 million per year after the House version of the bill eliminated the program completely. This program is critical in helping beginning organic farmers afford organic certification through USDA by providing producers with 75 percent, or up to $750, of the total certification cost. 'Organic food is one of the fastest growing sectors of the agricultural economy. This program will keep it that way,' Leahy said.

Protecting the Organic Label - As the 'father' of the national organic standards and labeling program and author of the 1990 Organic Farm Bill, Senator Leahy continues to lead the way on making this burgeoning sector secure, trustworthy, and economically viable. Senator Leahy led efforts to increase the authorization for the National Organic Program to $16.5 million in fiscal year 2019 with increases each year up to $24 million in fiscal year 2023. This Farm Bill includes improvements to ensuring the integrity of the USDA organic seal by adding a documentation and traceability enhancement measure to help prevent fraudulent organic imports. Unlike the House and its Farm Bill, the Senate maintains rigorous standards for what products can be labeled as organic. The Farm Bill also establishes the Organic Agricultural Product Imports Interagency Working Group which will allow USDA and the U.S. Customs and Border Protection to work together to inspect organic imports and prevent the import of fraudulent organic products.

Organic Data Initiatives Program - The Senate Farm Bill reauthorizes the Organic Production and Market Data Initiatives through fiscal year 2023 and provides $5 million in mandatory one-time funding. This critical funding will allow for continued organic data collection and distribution of organic market information, including data on production, handling, distribution, retail, and consumer purchasing patterns that will benefit Vermont farmers and food entrepreneurs alike.

Local Food Program- The Farm Bill combines the Value-added Producer Grants Program and the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program into the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP). Grants administered through this program continues support for partnerships in planning and developing local and regional food systems that are well targeted to Vermont farmers and producers. This bill includes $60 million in mandatory funding for fiscal year 2019 and each year after and authorizes another $20 million to be appropriated each year. The House Farm Bill would eliminate the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program and the Value-added Producer Grants Program by eliminating their mandatory funding.

Specialty Crop Block Grants - The Senate Farm Bill reauthorizes the Specialty Crop Block Grants which enhance the competitiveness of specialty products by promoting local and regional farm and food system specialty crop development. These grants can be used to enhance state and regional marketing programs, direct to consumer and direct to store marketing, access to specialty crops for low-income consumers, food hubs, and new farmer specialty crop development.

Promoting Maple Syrup Research and Marketing- The ACER Access and Development Program which provides grant money to support the domestic maple syrup industry was established in the 2014 Farm Bill and is now extended to 2023 in the Senate Farm Bill. This program promotes research and education related to maple syrup production, natural resources sustainability in the maple syrup industry, market production of maple syrup and maple-sap products, and encourages private land owners to initiate or expand maple-sugaring. The House version eliminated this important program supporting the maple industry of Vermont.

Rural Communities

REAP Zones - Senator Leahy, championed creation of the Rural Economic Area Partnership (REAP) Zone program that has been so successful in Vermont's Northeast Kingdom, and he has ensured that the REAP Zone program would be renewed under the Senate-passed Farm Bill. REAP Zones set up collaborative and citizen-led efforts to enhance economic development. This effort is a vibrant model for building a new rural economy that other rural areas are beginning to emulate. In 2016, the REAP Zone designation secured the Northeast Kingdom $6.7 million, which helped leverage an additional $12 million in general allocation funds for a total of $18.7 million to promote business, and community development, affordable housing and investments in infrastructure. In FY17, the REAP Zone secured $5.5 million in federal investment in the Northeast Kingdom.

Reauthorization of the Northern Border Regional Commission - The Northern Border Regional Commission was created in the 2008 Farm Bill with the advocacy of Senator Leahy. Since 2010, Vermont organizations have received more than $7.8 million to spur economic development and job growth in Vermont's six northern-most counties and leveraged more than $10.5 million in matching funds for a total of $18 million in project economic and infrastructure projects. The Farm Bill reauthorizes the Commission for five more years and includes administrative changes that will promote efficiency. The reauthorization also establishes a capacity building grant to help states better support business retention and expansion, encourage job creation and workforce development, expand access to high-speed broadband and encourage initiatives that drive investments in transportation and other infrastructure. Senator Leahy has advocated for increased funding for the Commission in his role as Vice Chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, including $15 million in the FY19 Senate Appropriations Committee-passed Energy & Water Appropriations, $2 million in the FY2019 Agriculture Appropriations Bill and $3 million in the Commerce Justice Science Appropriations bill, for a total of $20 million in funding for the Northern Border Regional Commission. These Appropriations Bills must be passed in final form by the full Senate and House of Representatives and then signed by the President.

State Rural Development Councils - Senator Leahy offered an amendment to continue the authorization for State Rural Development Councils to ensure these effective and efficient councils will continue their important work of strengthening rural communities in Vermont and across the country. The Vermont Council on Rural Development has a 21 year history of working with communities to identify unique challenges, and craft innovative solutions to break down barriers to growth. This reauthorization will renew for five years the statutory authority, functions and authorization of appropriations for State Rural Development Councils. While SRDCs have not received funding in recent history, this Farm Bill authorizes $10 million in annual funding for that National Rural Development Partnership.

Business and Innovation Services- The Senate Farm Bill ensures that the USDA Community Facilities Program will be able to better support growing rural businesses in Vermont. Emerging rural businesses face unique challenges, which can be addressed by investing in business incubators, makerspaces, and job training centers that provide much needed resources for Vermont communities to support their entrepreneurs. It also improves the Rural Business Investment Program to promote investment funds that serve rural entrepreneurs, and creates a program to invest in rural job accelerator initiatives like job training, mentorship and access to affordable financial capital. These new initiatives will help minimize barriers facing Vermont's rural entrepreneurs and small and growing businesses.

Investments to Strengthen Rural Water Infrastructure - The Senate bill will help Vermont families and businesses gain improved access to clean drinking water and the bill provides for targeted support to addresses harmful contaminants like PFOA that has contaminated drinking water wells in Bennington and North Bennington, Vermont.

National Oilheat Research Alliance - In the Senate Farm Bill, Senator Leahy was part of a bipartisan effort to reauthorize the National Oilheat Research Alliance (NORA), which supports oil heating companies and rural customers by working with manufacturers to do research and development of efficient heating technology, educating technicians and communicating with the public about the benefits of oil heat. In a state like Vermont, where the winters are beautiful but cold, providing efficient, affordable heating options is critically important and NORA helps the more than 40 percent of Vermont homeowners who rely on oil to heat their homes. NORA also supports the Vermont Fuel Dealers Association with research, training, and efficiency upgrades at locations across the state. In reauthorizing NORA, this Farm Bill helps Vermonters heat their homes in less expensive and more environmentally friendly ways.

Extension of National Flood Insurance Program - The bill also extends the National Flood Insurance Program for an additional six months, ensuring that this critical program for rural communities will not lapse while Congress continues to work on a long-term extension.

Other

Hemp Farming - The Senate Farm Bill would expand upon previous hemp promotion programs by legalizing hemp as an agricultural commodity, removing it from the federal list of controlled substances. The bill allows states to regulate hemp, hemp growers to apply for grants from the USDA, and makes hemp farmers eligible for crop insurance. In Vermont in 2018, there are 281 registered hemp producers and nearly 2,000 acres of hemp will be grown this year. This bill will be important to so many Vermont farmers hoping to diversify and remain viable. The House Farm Bill does not address hemp agriculture and offers no help for those growers struggling to work with a commodity that is still federally illegal.

Study for Land Grant Universities and Cooperative Extension -- The Senate Farm Bill directs the Secretary of Agriculture to complete a much needed study to determine how, through Cooperative Extension, to best to serve the changing needs in rural America. This will help support the University of Vermont - a federal Land Grant college - in providing adequate services for the growth and development of rural communities based on their changing demographics. The required report to Congress will have a special focus on the need to carry out activities related to small and diverse farms, veteran farmers, value-added agriculture, direct-to-consumer sales, and specialty crops.

Supports Agricultural Trade - The Farm Bill consolidates the Market Access Program with a few other trade programs to create the new Priority Trade Promotion, Development, and Assistance Program in order to access, develop, maintain, and expand markets for U.S. agricultural goods. Vermont producers benefit greatly from more and improved export markets.

McGovern-Dole - The McGovern-Dole International Food for Education and Child Nutrition Program facilitates distribution of food commodities through schools in developing countries through partner organizations to improve food security, reduce hunger, and improve literacy in low income and food deficit countries. The program has projects all over the world and has fed more than 40 million children from some of the poorest countries. This Farm Bill reauthorizes this important program fighting hunger worldwide.

Food for Peace - The largest food aid program under the Agriculture Committee's jurisdiction, Food for Peace provides for emergency aid and non-emergency development projects. This notable program enables the U.S. to donate food overseas to promote food security, and the Senate Farm Bill reauthorizes the program and makes important reforms that will improve the U.S. response to crises.

Timber Innovation - The Senate Farm Bill clarifies that the Forest Service can do research and offer technical assistance to assist with those hoping to use innovative wood products. A new wood innovation grant program is created to promote research and development of wood products and improve sustainability and environmental impact of using wood for construction.

Protections for Pets and Domestic Violence Survivors - Senator Leahy is a cosponsor of the Pet and Women Safety Act which would increase the punishments for domestic abusers who threaten or harm the pets of a domestic violence survivor. This bill would help to increase the peace of mind and security when survivors make the difficult decision of leaving an abusive environment. This bill has been included in the Senate Farm Bill.

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Press Contact

David Carle: 202-224-3693