Farm Bill Goes to Conference Committee

Members of Congress are meeting this week to negotiate which portions of the House and Senate versions of the Farm Bill will make it to the final bill.

Both chambers’ versions of the Farm Bill are deeply flawed, effectively continuing to structure our food and agriculture system to maximize profits for multinational corporations. But there are some vital provisions that are even worse than our current policies, and then there are a few provisions that could help small & sustainable producers. Given what we have to work with, we need to focus on keeping out the worst and salvaging the few bright spots.

If your Representative or Senator are on the conference committee, it is vital that you call and talk with their staff as soon as possible! Much of the attention is going to the high-profile issue of SNAP, or food stamps, so they may not have a position yet on the issues discussed below.

If your legislators are not on the conference committee, the best thing you can do is call your own Representative and Senators and ask them to weigh in with the conferees on your behalf.

The list of conferees is below, after the “Take Action” section.

 

Take Action

 

You can find out who represents you by going to www.house.gov & www.senate.gov or by calling the Capitol Switchboard at 202-224-3121.

When you call your Representative and Senators, be sure to identify yourself as a constituent.  You can talk to the staffer who picks up the phone, and simply mention all these issues. Or, for an even greater impact, ask to speak to the staffer who is handling the Farm Bill, and talk with them briefly about the 2 or 3 issues that matter the most to you!

 

Issues for the Conference Committee

  • Keep out the House’s King Amendment, which usurps local control over food and agriculture.
  • Adopt the Senate’s version of the conservation title and protect the nation’s largest resource conservation program on working farm and ranch lands – The Conservation Stewardship Program
  • Support local food production and new farmers by adopting permanent funding for:
    1. The Local Agriculture Marketing Program (LAMP), which combines and strengthens the Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program and Value-Added Producer Grant Program.
    2. The Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach Program, which combines beginning farmer training and outreach to socially disadvantaged farmers.
  • Target support to family farmers instead of Wall Street by maintaining payment limits and strengthening eligibility rules for farm subsidies.

 

Conference Committee Members

Below are the legislators who will negotiate which provisions from each chambers’ bill makes it into the final Farm Bill. That final bill will then have to be voted on again by both the House and the Senate. So whether your legislators are on the conference committee or not, they do have a voice in the Farm Bill – the conference committee members just have a greater voice.

Check out the list, and if your member is on the committee, call them as soon as possible – and then encourage your family and friends in the district to call as well! In addition to members of each chambers’ Agriculture Committee, the House named additional conferees to the Conference Committee:

 

Senate Conferees to Farm Bill Conference Committee (all of whom are members of the Senate Agriculture Committee)

  • Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS)
  • Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY)
  • John Boozman (R-AR)
  • John Hoeven (R-ND)
  • Joni Ernst (R-IA)
  • Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-MI)
  • Patrick Leahy (D-VT)
  • Sherrod Brown (D-OH)
  • Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND)

 

House Conferees to Farm Bill Conference Committee (from the House Agriculture Committee)

  • Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX)
  • Glenn “GT” Thompson (R-PA)
  • Bob Goodlatte (R-VA)
  • Frank Lucas (R-OK)
  • Mike Rogers (R-AL)
  • Austin Scott (R-GA)
  • Rick Crawford (R-AR)
  • Vicky Hartzler (R-MO)
  • Rodney Davis (R-IL)
  • Ted Yoho (R-FL)
  • David Rouzer (R-NC)
  • Roger Marshall (R-KS)
  • Jodey Arrington (R-TX)
  • Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN)
  • David Scott (D-GA)
  • Jim Costa (D-CA)
  • Tim Walz (D-MN)
  • Marcia Fudge (D-OH)
  • Jim McGovern (D-MA)
  • Filemon Vela (D-TX)
  • Michelle Lujan Grisham (D-NM)
  • Ann Kuster (D-NH)
  • Tom O’Halleran (D-AZ)

 

House Additions to the Farm Bill Conference Committee:

  • Virginia Foxx (R-NC) – Education and the Workforce Committee Conferee
  • Rick Allen (R-GA) – Education and the Workforce Committee Conferee
  • John Shimkus (R-IL) – Energy and Commerce Committee Conferee
  • Kevin Cramer (R-ND) – Energy and Commerce Committee Conferee
  • Jeb Hensarling (R-TX) – Financial Services Committee Conferee
  • Sean Duffy (R-WI) – Financial Services Committee Conferee
  • Ed Royce (R-CA) – Foreign Affairs Committee Conferee
  • Steve Chabot (R-OH) – Foreign Affairs Committee Conferee
  • Mark Walker (R-NC) – Oversight and Government Reform Committee Conferee
  • James Comer (R-KY) – Oversight and Government Reform Committee Conferee
  • Rob Bishop (R-UT) – Natural Resources Committee Conferee
  • Bruce Westerman (R-AR) – Natural Resources Committee Conferee
  • Ralph Abraham (R-LA) – Science, Space, and Technology Committee Conferee
  • Neal Dunn (R-FL) – Science, Space, and Technology Committee Conferee
  • Jeff Denham (R-CA) – Transportation and Infrastructure Conferee
  • Bob Gibbs (R-OH) – Transportation and Infrastructure Conferee
  • Alma Adams (D-NC) – Education and the Workforce Committee Conferee
  • Paul Tonko (D-NY) – Energy and Commerce Committee Conferee
  • Maxine Waters (D-CA) – Financial Services Committee Conferee
  • Eliot Engel (D-NY) – Foreign Affairs Committee Conferee
  • Raul Grijalva (D-AZ) – Natural Resources Committee Conferee
  • Stacey Plaskett (D-VI) – Oversight and Government Reform Committee Conferee
  • Eddie Bernice Johnson (D-TX) – Science, Space, and Technology Committee Conferee
  • Cheri Bustos (D-IL) – Transportation and Infrastructure Conferee

MORE INFORMATION

LOCAL CONTROL

Representative King’s bill to strip local control of food and agriculture was incorporated into the House’s version of the Farm Bill. The provision would prohibit any state or local government from adopting any standard or condition on the production or manufacture of any agricultural product that is sold in interstate commerce.

The bill mandates a one-size-fits-all approach for environmental standards, labor rights, animal welfare, and community safety. It would eliminate laws adopted by local communities to address problems like Dicamba pesticide drift, to set standards for food quality and animal welfare (such as cage-free eggs or crate-free veal), and even laws that simply allow consumers to know whether their purchases support their local farming communities.

State and local laws that would be negated include:

  • Labeling and sale criteria for maple syrup, farm raised fish, and many more.
  • Farm production standards related to the transport of commodities and livestock, farm labor safeguards, and agriculture chemical use standards.
  • Farmer and rural community protections like bans on importing diseased product (firewood, bee colonies, etc.), fertilizer application standards, and fencing requirements.
  • Consumer protection such as BPA-free baby food containers, perishable food labeling, and labeling of consumer chemicals known to cause birth defects.

The Senate version did not include this provision, and we need to keep it out of the final Farm Bill!

 

CONSERVATION

For decades, the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) has provided funds to help farmers who choose to implement practices on their farms that promote long-term sustainability. This funding has enabled farmers to help promote healthy soil, water, air, and wildlife habitats that benefit everyone – and, at the same time, improve the profitability of their operations. CSP covers over 70 million acres across the country and especially benefits family farmers who are invested in sustaining their land’s productivity for generations to come.

Another program, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) has also benefited many farmers in implementing stewardship practices. Unfortunately, it has also been used to provide government subsidies to the largest and most environmentally damaging operations, particularly Confined Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs). Contrary to the original intent of EQIP, these factory farms have been able to use our tax dollars to build “manure management systems,” subsidizing their harmful production practices.

The House Farm Bill eliminated CSP and replaced it with vague “stewardship contracts” inside EQIP. But these “stewardship contracts” retain very little of the important core elements of CSP, such as comprehensive whole farm conservation approaches and the eligibility requirement to reach certain environmental stewardship levels before enrolling. The bill opens “stewardship contracts” to be used by CAFOs.

At the same time, the House version cut total conservation funding by nearly $1 billion. This means less funding in total, no funding at all for many important conservation measures, and the funding that is provided will more often go to factory farms.

In contrast, the Senate version of the Farm Bill maintained the CSP and made much smaller cuts to conservation funding overall.

 

LOCAL FOOD PROGRAMS

Farmers and consumers across the country have taken the farm-to-table movement from being effectively unknown to being a vibrant, growing movement that generated $8.7 billion in revenue in 2015, according to the USDA. This rapid growth is primarily driven by farmers’ hard work and consumer demand – but the connection between the two has been helped in many cases with two government programs funded under the last Farm Bill.

The Farmers Market and Local Food Promotion Program provides important support for farmers’ markets as well as local food hubs, while the Value-Added Producer Grant Program helps farmers grow their businesses and bring in new sources of income. The House bill leaves the programs in place but removes what is known as mandatory funding – leaving the funding up to Congress each year. In practical terms, this most likely means no funding for these programs for the next five years.

The Senate version of the Farm Bill combined the programs into a new one, the Local Agriculture Marketing Program , or LAMP, and provided mandatory funding for it.

 

GIVEAWAYS TO LARGE AGRIBUSINESS

The House version of the Farm bill would abolish a 30-year-old rule that prevents corporations from receiving unlimited commodity payments. Lucrative loopholes in the bill for the largest, wealthiest agribusiness operations would allow:

  • Most corporate farms to receive multiple payments, rather than being limited to a single payment under a single payment cap, which is currently the case.
  • Mega-farms to more easily reorganize as “family farms,” thereby increasing farm subsidy payments to a single farm by hundreds of thousands of dollars a year.
  • Unlimited subsidies and no accountability to taxpayers by removing payment limitations from marketing loan gains and loan deficiency payments.
  • Entities such as joint ventures, LLCs, and Subchapter S corporations to be exempt from the current limitation that no person OR legal entity with an adjusted gross income exceeding $900,000 (effectively $1.8 million for many couples) is eligible for commodity or conservation payments.

The Senate not only did not include this provision, but it went the other direction, thanks to a provision sponsored by Senator Grassley to reform the payment limits and definitions of “actively engaged in farming.” Those Senate provisions, while modest, make important reforms to keep your tax dollars out of the pockets of wealthy agribusinesses. You can read about these provisions at https://www.agri-pulse.com/articles/11169-grassley-wins-tougher-farm-payment-rules-for-senate-bill.