Sep 07, 2018
WASHINGTON, DC -- The House and Senate Farm Bill Conference Committee held its first official meeting Wednesday morning where the 56 conferees, nine Senators and 47 House Members, comprising the committee made brief statements on legislative provisions and issues they support or oppose in the two chambers’ bills.
Although the leaders of the Senate and House Agriculture Committees met several times throughout August to reconcile differences between the two versions of the Farm Bill before the current law expires on September 30, the most contentious differences still remain, particularly in the commodity, conservation, and nutrition titles.
One outstanding issue is a harmful provision included in the Senate version aimed at further restricting access to the farm safety net.
“In both chambers, we’ve crafted policies not to make the good times better, but to make the tough times bearable. But, we are not without our differences,” said Senator John Boozman (R-AR) to his fellow conference committee members. “I’m deeply concerned that the actively engaged eligibility provisions included in the Senate bill will only exacerbate the pain being felt throughout rural America by arbitrarily excluding some farmers from Title I programs. This is often characterized as a regional difference, but let me be clear, this provision does not discriminate against regions, it discriminates against farmers and those who feed and clothe this nation.”
“The proposed changes to the actively engaged rule for commodity program eligibility would be devastating to the program’s intent to provide a modest safety net for farmers during times of declined prices, and market and trade uncertainty,” said Joe Mencer, Arkansas rice farmer and chair of USA Rice Farmers.
During Wednesday’s meeting, Congressman Ralph Abraham (R-LA) highlighted a provision in the House version that is a priority of USA Rice, allowing for the expansion of the family definition for commodity program eligibility to more accurately reflect modern day family farm management structures. Abraham said, “A sudden death in the family can unravel a family farm that’s been running for generations. We can fix this with the bill and preserve the family farm, a vital part of the fabric of rural America, and I support including nieces, nephews, and first cousins in the definition of ‘actively engaged.’”
Collective sentiment among legislators revolves around the need for the 2018 Farm Bill to be passed on time. Just seven legislative days remain with the House and Senate both in session before September 30, leaving Congress little time to forward the bill to the President’s desk to be signed into law.
“USA Rice is thankful to have great advocates in Washington working to pass a farm bill with positive farm, conservation, trade, and food aid provisions for the U.S. rice industry,” said Charley Mathews, Jr., California rice farmer and chairman of USA Rice. “With yet another declining net farm income forecast for 2018, a reliable safety net and other critical farm bill programs will be essential to ensuring rice farmers and our industry can weather the storm.”