Farm Bill Begins Final Steps

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Critical Time for Farm Bill. Committee working toward a final bill. Conservation stated as a priority for several members.

By Jim Inglis, Pheasants Forever Director of Governmental Affairs

Late last week the Farm Bill Conference Committee (video here) had their first meeting in an effort to finalize the provisions of the 2018 Farm Bill. The Committee is working to compromise on the differences between the House and Senate versions.

The largest sticking point seems to be the the SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as Food Stamps) reforms offered in the House version. Chairman Conaway has indicated, however, they are willing to compromise somewhat on this issue to pass a bill by the September 30 deadline. With only 8 legislative work days left there is still a long way to go.

On the conservation front, conferees will make  a decision to increase CRP from the current 24M acre cap to the Senate’s 25M request, the House’s 29M acres, or most likely someplace in between. No matter the final acreage count, it must be done without cutting rental rates or incentives too deeply.
 
Another major conservation difference is the House’s request to merge CSP (Conservation Stewaship Program) into EQIP (Environmental Quality Incentives Program), both of which are important to conservation.

House Agriculture ranking member Collin Peterson (Minnesota) has been a strong advocate for increasing the CRP cap early in the Farm Bill discussions.  In addition, several  members of the conference committee mentioned CRP specifically as being a priority. Notably Congressmen Lucas (Oklahoma), Walz (Minnesota) and Marshall (Kansas) made comments about the importance of CRP.
 
Congressman Lucas, who was the House Agriculture Chariman during the 2014 Farm Bill, commented and  recognized the “dramatic reduction in acres” last time, but also recognized it had to be done for funding reasons. He then mentioned it is now time for “ CRP to come back up”.
 
Several other members mentioned the need for a strong conservation title overall, and Senator Boozman (Arkansas) mentioned specifically that the Wetlands Reserve Easement program is vitally important for waterfowl.
 
The House and Senate Leadership, as well as the White House, have all commented about the need to get the Farm Bill done by the end of September before the current version expires. Pheasants Forever and Quail Forever have been right there in the trenches fighting for conservation. Stay tuned for more developments at this critical time.