The Senate voted to move to conference with the House on the 2018 farm bill and announced its conferees this week. A total of 56 lawmakers have been assigned to the joint House-Senate Conference Committee, which will continue discussions during the House’s August recess. The Senate is remaining in session for most of the month to continue work on appropriations bills and nominations of Trump judicial and administration appointees.
The Senate’s nine farm bill negotiators include Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., as well as four other Republican conferees: Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts of Kansas, John Boozman of Arkansas, John Hoeven of North Dakota and Joni Ernst of Iowa. The four Democrats announced Wednesday include Senate Agriculture Committee ranking member Debbie Stabenow of Michigan, and Sens. Sherrod Brown of Ohio and Patrick Leahy of Vermont.
The House named 47 negotiators in July.
McConnell said he wants to have a final version of the farm bill ready for President Donald Trump to sign by Sept. 30, when the current bill expires.
“We hope to be able to present that conference report on the farm bill to both bodies (the House and Senate) shortly after the Labor Day weekend,” he said. “The leaders of the House Agriculture Committee are committed to stay in touch even though they are taking a six-week break.”
Resolving differences over tighter work requirements for food stamp recipients on what is now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) is expected to be the toughest hurdle during the negotiations. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, fought throughout the farm bill process for provisions that tighten eligibility and strengthen work requirements for SNAP. 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.
During the farm bill process, the NGFA encouraged lawmakers to support reforms to the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), and both chambers adopted some of those reforms in their respective farm bills.
The Senate’s farm bill would increase the CRP acreage cap by 1 million acres to 25 million acres. The bill also would impose a first-ever cap on the annual rental rate for both general and continuous sign-ups set at 88.5 percent of the county rental rate. However, a troubling new Senate CRP provision would create a Conservation Reserve Easement Program to pay landowners to permanently give up their or any future landowner’s rights to farm on land covered under expiring CRP contracts – starting with CRP acres enrolled in 2019.
By comparison, the House farm bill would increase CRP to 29 million acres and likewise impose a first-ever cap on rental rates set at 80 percent of the average county rental value. The House bill also would reduce rental rates further for subsequent reenrollments of CRP land.
In addition, in contrast to the House’s version, which eliminated 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.
NGFA publishes comparison of House and Senate farm bills: View a side-by-side comparing key provisions important to the grain, feed and processing industry in both the House and Senate farm bills in this NGFA document.