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2018 Farm Bill nears completion
The 2018 Farm Bill is nearly complete, but it comes two months after the 2014 Farm Bill expired, which has left the future growth of some programs in limbo. House and Senate leadership working on the conference committee have reached an agreement in principle on the bill’s provisions. Once the legislation’s costs have been assessed by the Congressional Budget Office, a final vote can be held.
The 2018 Farm Bill sets forth agricultural policy for the next five years. The large package of titles in the bill includes provisions that affect everything from commodity payments and subsidies for farmers, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (also known as food stamps), and several private-land conservation programs. The House and Senate versions of the bill differ in several respects, including how they deal with conservation programs. The conference committee has been working to reconcile these differences since early September.
Funding amounts and acreage allotments for the major conservation programs, the Conservation Reserve Program, the Conservation Stewardship Program and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program have been a subject of contention between the House and Senate and were one of the last issues to be settled in conference. The House bill would eliminate the Conservation Stewardship Program. The compromise will likely bring some changes to current programs, including an increase in the acreage cap for the Conservation Reserve Program from its current 24-million-acre cap.
While both versions of the bill contain forestry provisions, the House bill included additional contentious provisions for increased forest thinning and expedited environmental review spurred by recent wildfires. In recent months, Republicans in both the House and Senate have argued for increased thinning, while others have argued for increased wildfire suppression funding. Forest management provisions now seem unlikely to make it into the final bill.
Congress had planned to vote on the Farm Bill in early December, but the vote was delayed in light of the death of former President George H.W. Bush. The bill is still expected to be completed this Congress.