Picture of Margaret Reeves

Margaret Reeves

Holding strong to the Senate Farm Bill

Last week, the U.S. Senate passed its version of the 2018 Farm Bill by a vote of 86-11. While still flawed, the Senate bill is much better than the widely criticized House version of the bill, which narrowly passed a week prior.

Now the Farm Bill will go on to conference where the two versions will be reconciled into one final bill — and along with partners we’re pressing for the preservation of the Senate version of the bill, rather than retreating to the House version.

What we won

Together with partners, PAN celebrates progress in a number of areas for the nation’s farmers, ranchers and rural communities in the bipartisan Senate Farm Bill.

The bill preserves nutrition programs, leaves conservation and other key programs largely intact, and upholds clean water protections. It also improves transparency in credit programs and removes barriers to cultivation of industrial hemp.

Georgia Good, Vice Chairperson of the Rural Coalition responded,

“We are grateful to Senator Tim Scott (SC) and Doug Jones (AL) for opening a critical new door to allow families of multiple generations operating on inherited land to be allowed in to the programs of USDA that all farmers need to thrive with their [Heirs’ Property] bill, S. 3117. We further thank Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (KA) and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (MI) for their patient and persistent leadership to work with us all to include these bills in a landmark package that values all rural communities and peoples.”

Of particular note, the bill makes critical investments in programs supporting the nation’s veteran and young farmers and ranchers, as well as historically underserved farmers, ranchers and rural communities, including those of African American, Asian American, Latino, and Tribal descent.

The Native Farm Bill Coalition praises the bill’s inclusion of several provisions that would provide new opportunities for tribal governments and Native producers to address conservation, rural development, credit, food access and dietary health in Indian Country.

What we didn’t yet achieve

Though the progress outlined above is encouraging, PAN reiterates the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC’s) disappointment that Senate leadership made an 11th hour decision to block a widely supported, bipartisan amendment led by Senator Dick Durbin (D-IL) to reduce crop insurance premium subsidies for the wealthiest farming operations.

This modest reduction would apply to individuals making an adjusted gross income of more than $700,000 per year, and at least double that for married couples. In other words, the wealthiest individuals would be required to pay about half of their own insurance premiums rather than having the bulk of the premium paid for by the taxpayer. This amendment has passed the Senate during previous Farm Bill cycles and likely would have passed again, if given the chance.

Beyond this, the Senate Farm Bill didn’t quite delve as deeply as we would have liked into all of the policies PAN outlines in our Food and Farming Platform. And as Iowa farmer Patti Naylor recently shared,

“It’s not just the bill as proposed that needs to change — it’s the whole process. Food is such a basic part of how we survive, so the Farm Bill process needs to be more inclusive, engaging, and responsive to our needs as farmers, eaters and community members.”

Next steps to conference

In the coming weeks, the House and Senate will need to reconcile the very big differences in each version of Farm Bill. Some key issues:

  • The House bill runs roughshod over the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, (SNAP) and would cause millions of American families to lose access to food assistance. Conversely the Senate bill would preserve food access for these families.
  • The House bill eliminates key farm-to-fork investments while the Senate builds those programs up.
  • The House bill weakens conservation programs and eliminates USDA’s largest working lands conservation program, the Conservation Stewardship Program, while the Senate bill largely preserves those programs.
  • The House bill adds layers of new subsidy loopholes for mega-farms, while the Senate bill wisely tightens payment eligibility rules.
  • The House bill would keep the funding non-permanent for organic research and beginning and socially disadvantaged farmer training and outreach, while the Senate bill increases and makes this funding permanent.

PAN echoes NSAC’s position on the bill,

“For family farmers, sustainable agriculture advocates, and anti-hunger champions, there can be no compromise on many of these critical issues — the Senate farm bill model will be the only workable choice.“

Picture of Margaret Reeves

Margaret Reeves

Margaret Reeves is a PAN Senior Scientist with expertise in agroecology and soil ecology. As a long-time farmworker advocate, Margaret serves on the Board of the Equitable Food Initiative and works with partners around the country to ensure worker-protective federal and state policy. Follow @MargaretatPAN

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