House Republicans passed their version of the farm bill (H.R. 2) on a party-line, 213-211 vote Thursday. The bill is unchanged from the version that failed to pass in May, but it gained more Republican votes after House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., agreed to schedule votes on unrelated immigration bills.
The farm bill failed to pass last month after Democrats and some moderate Republicans opposed changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) in the bill and some members of the conservative House Freedom Caucus withheld their votes to force action on a separate immigration and border security bill. No Democrats voted for the bill during either vote.
The House farm bill would increase the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) from the current 24 million to 29 million acres and reform rental rates to encourage removal of productive acres from the program. The bill also includes a bipartisan provision that gives grain handling facilities whose grain inspection exceptions were wrongly terminated by the federal grain inspection service the opportunity to return to their exception provider.
The Senate Agriculture Committee on June 13 approved its version of the new farm bill by a 20-1 vote, sending the bill to the Senate floor for a debate before July 4.
The Senate committee-passed bill would increase the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acreage cap by 1 million acres to 25 million acres. The bill also would lower and cap the annual rental rate for both general and continuous sign-ups to 88.5 percent of the county rental rate. That compares to an 80 percent county payment rate cap. A troubling new CRP provision would create a Conservation Reserve Easement Program to pay landowners to permanently give up their rights, as well those of all future owners, to engage in crop production on the land. In contrast to the House’s version, which eliminates the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), the Senate bill would leave CSP intact as a standalone program, but reduce the acreage cap from 10 million acres to 7.797 million.
The House bill includes work requirements for SNAP recipients and tighter eligibility rules for the program, while the Senate bill contains neither of these stricter requirements. SNAP, which is under the Nutrition Title of the bill, will be the biggest difference lawmakers must reconcile before agreeing on a final version of the farm bill to pass and send to the president’s desk. The current farm bill expires Sept. 30.
During the farm bill process, the NGFA is encouraging lawmakers to support further reforms to the CRP embodied in the “Give Our Resources the Opportunity to Work” (GROW) Act. NGFA members have the opportunity to advocate for CRP reform here.