A message I have heard clearly from Idahoans in the town meetings I have been holding across our great state and in discussions with Idaho producers and agricultural leaders is the current Farm Bill is not broken and does not require major changes.
I have approached the current effort in Congress to reauthorize the Farm Bill with this principle in mind. While Farm Bills have largely been bipartisan, the Senate passed its version of the 2018 Farm Bill with the most bipartisan vote in recent history. This overwhelmingly, bipartisan vote, of 86-11, for this legislation that generally maintains the support for American agricultural production in current law recognizes the need to get a new Farm Bill reauthorized without delay due to the slump in the farm economy.
Many farmers and ranchers are struggling through multi-year low prices. Farm incomes are half of what they were just a few years ago. They are working hard to feed their families, employees, fellow Idahoans and consumers around the world while facing increased pressure from high input costs, decreased farm revenues, more demands on land and water, weather uncertainty and more.
I supported passage of S. 3042, the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, known as the Senate version of the 2018 Farm Bill, that backs farmers and ranchers by maintaining a fair floor of support for producers while increasing resources for selling American farm products overseas.
Differences between the House and Senate versions of the Farm Bill are now to be worked out in a House-Senate conference for final consideration of the legislation.
I have stressed often that the Farm Bill affects a wide swath of federal policy far beyond traditional agricultural commodity programs. Federal nutrition, conservation, rural development, energy, world market access, forestry, specialty crop, organics and many other programs are part of the Farm Bill. The Senate Farm Bill includes a number of provisions of importance to Idaho communities.
- The legislation would preserve the ability for farmers to manage risk by maintaining crop insurance and commodity programs.
- It would maintain robust conservation programs to protect and enhance the natural resources farmers and ranchers depend upon to produce food, feed, fuel and fiber.
- Strong research and promotional programs for specialty crops would be maintained.
- The bill includes an expansion of the Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program that has spawned active collaborative land-use efforts in Idaho and other states. I led legislation to reauthorize and expand this program that helps improve forest and watershed health.
- Important resources would be devoted to research and boosting sales of U.S. farm goods in world markets.
- The legislation would preserve the sugar program that ensures sugar beet growers can continue to contribute to an affordable, abundant food supply.
- The bill also includes the Timber Innovation Act, which I pushed for, to boost the development and creation of new markets for building materials derived from forest products.
- The nutrition title includes new program integrity initiatives for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to ensure beneficiaries are not claiming benefits in multiple states and offer new job training programs for recipients.
Debate will continue over reforms to keep federal nutrition programs solvent, but I expect we will have a strong, bipartisan show of support for our farmers in the final vote on the Farm Bill legislation. As the final legislation is ironed out, I will continue to work to ensure Idaho producers’ concerns and priorities are addressed as I press for enactment of a strong law best enabling Idaho farmers and ranchers to continue to put high-quality food on all of our tables while sustaining critical land and water resources.