Twelve Things to Know About the 2018 Farm Bill

Kaolin Sewell

A flag waves in front of acres of soybeans in Wisconsin.

Once every five years, the farm bill reauthorizes farm and nutrition programs nationwide, covering programs such as healthy food access for low-income Americans and protecting our environment. 

The current version – set to expire on September 30 – took two years to finalize and cost nearly $1 trillion in its final form. The 900-page legislation set food policy for the next decade but is usually renewed every five years.

The implementation of the farm bill began in 1933 as a slice of then President Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s New Deal. The farm bill aims to fulfill three goals – keep food prices reasonable for consumers, make sure there is sufficient food supply and to protect our natural resources. 

Congressional leaders from the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives are continuing to reconcile their versions of the 2018 Farm Bill, a nearly $870 billion spending plan for programs such as trade, commodities, food stamps and conservation.

Here’s a look at what’s in the proposed 2018 Farm Bill:

President Trump wants food stamp work requirements to be included in the new bill. | New York Times

After the farm bill gets through the U.S. Congress, President Trump hopes to see the inclusion of additional work requirements for Americans receiving food stamps, as defined by the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

New requirements will up the work obligation for those receiving SNAP benefits as well as place a new limit on governors’ ability to renounce such requirements.

President Trump has vocalized his support for such an amendment via Twitter. The President believes it will positively impact working Americans. There are roughly 40 million low-income Americans that SNAP to subsidize their groceries. 

House version of the 2018 Farm Bill may chip away at the federal safety net. | NPR

Last year, Federal Safety Net programming provided monthly grocery funds of $125 to 42.3 million SNAP participants. Currently, this program requires adults between the ages of 18-49 without any children, to spend 20 hours per week working jobs or in state-run training programs. 

However, training programs can be hard to enroll in due to the large number of SNAP participants already involved. There are almost 7 million adults who are in need of this program but not enough room for them. 

In the Senate, their version of the new farm bill keeps the existing work requirements and proposes the creation of additional work training programs to create more slots for enrollment.

The House comes down stricter. This version is projected to increase the minimum hours of work or job training for able-bodied adults without children between the ages of 18-59 to 25 hours per week. The budget set for this new requirement is $1 billion per year. 

If the House version of the bill passes, the reform of work requirements could affect as many as two million low-income Americans. 

Sugar reform didn’t quite make the cut in House version of the farm bill. | Washington Examiner

The House barely voted against renovating the federal sugar support system in the 2018 farm bill. An amendment proposed by Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), called for restrictions on the production of domestic and foreign sugar on the U.S. market. Essentially, the price of sugar would drop due to this reform. 

Federal sugar support programs create a minimum price for producers to sell sugar in the event of a price drop. Foxx’s proposal indicated the removal of production limits for U.S. growers and opened doors for an influx of imports.

For now, the price of sugar will stay high and the program will stand as is - the amendment was flattened in the House, 278-137

The House and Senate consider re-evaluating school lunches. | The Telegraph

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, roughly 20 percent of American school children are obese. In an effort to combat unhealthy eating in schools, the Obama administration renovated nutrition standards in the National School Lunch Program. Essentially, the amount of vegetables, sugar, salt and whole grains in school lunches was subject to regulation. 

But it’s no easy task to meet nutrition challenges while keeping children happy with the food options available in public schools. In Macon, Georgia, the Bibb County School District served up 18,000 lunches over the past school year. Their lunches are free because enough students face difficulties receiving proper nutrition at home. 

Under the new farm bill, those meals may no longer be free for all students. 

If families in the county lose their SNAP benefits, this district would no longer gain access to federal programs funding free lunch. 

Like any other public school district, Bibb County is subject to regulations set by the U.S. Department of Agriculture. The Trump administration has made a few recent changes that have been applied to schools that have funding troubles. One change that has been made was to delay sodium restrictions. 

In the House bill, there have been moves to make changes like these, permanent. However, any changes made in the farm bill must also be backed by research in schools and cannot increase costs of programming. The Senate version of the bill keeps SNAP requirements in place. 

Funding will pull away from the Clean Water Rule. | The Progressive Farmer

The House bill aims to repeal the 2015 Environmental Protection Agency/​Army Corps of Engineer rule within the Clean Water Rule. The Clean Water Rule helps stop pollution in U.S. waters and by reclassifying what is considered protected federal waters, which includes wetlands and small streams. 

For now, the Clean Water Rule will stay in place though the EPA has made moves to try to repeal it. 

As well as defunding many conservation efforts. | Civil Eats

The federal government has made some effort to inspire farmers to take on sustainable practices. The Conservation Stewardship Program, is a large part of the effort - reducing pollution and runoff on farms. 

The House version of the 2018 farm bill aims to consolidate such programs into larger plans. The hope is to boost similar initiatives but the new version of the bill fails to instill complete changes protecting proper environmental practices. 

Over the next 10 years, $5 billion will be cut from conservation projects. 

The House bill decreases its rules on pesticides. | EcoWatch

Children, farmers, communities and endangered species could be at risk as pesticide protections fall away in the House version of the new farm bill. 

Local governments would be blocked from adopting their own pesticide regulations, even if it means protecting children. Essentially, the communities would no longer have the ability to create laws or other protection measures in their communities – even in places like playgrounds and schools. Under this proposal, farmers would be able to spray pesticides directly into drinking water supplies. 

Currently, local governing bodies can regulate where chemicals are sprayed and farmers must gain a permit to be able to spray substances into bodies of water. With fewer restrictions and less government oversight, protecting our drinking water could become a difficult task. 

Farm bill confronts crop insurance. | AgriPulse

Significant changes are set to impact crop insurance programs. Amendments in the House farm bill detail a limit for crop insurance subsidies impacting the wealthiest farmers. Among the many amendments proposed, some lawmakers hope to decrease the target gross rate of return for insurance companies from 14.5 to 12 percent. Another aims to lower crop insurance premium subsidies for insurance policies. There has been a proposal to restrict crop insurance subsidies with adjusted gross income under $500,000 and to require a public disclosure of premium subsidies. 

Lawmakers hope the various amendments will save taxpayers more than $490 million over the next decade. Critics hope to push back on such amendments to protect subsides already in place. Currently, there are no limits on crop insurance. 

Farm bill plows into the Affordable Care Act. | NPR

The House farm bill has come down hard on the Affordable Care Act. Under the new bill, farmers have the ability to buy into health insurance plans that are lower in cost but offer fewer benefits than the current plan. 

More than $60 million in loans and grants will be required to be dispensed by the Department of Agriculture to help stimulate these association health plans.”

The plans would be offered through the workplace or similar organizations. 

For the new health insurance providers, there would be no requirement to offer a minimum set of necessary benefits such as hospitalization, prescription drugs, and emergency care.

Trade protections are amplified in farm bill. | The New Republic

If more export regulation ensues, U.S. farmers may worry over a potential retaliation on foreign import tariffs decided by President Trump. Both Senate and House bills suggest backing exports for specialty crops. This could help U.S. farmers sell more crops abroad as well as provide a safeguard against additional foreign imposed tariffs. This decision comes as China sends tariffs on soybeans and potentially other U.S. exports. 

Rural areas to see more access to internet. | Washington Examiner

There has been a push by some lawmakers, to require a faster internet speed for government-subsidized broadband internet in rural areas. Rep. Vicky Hartzler (R – M.O.) proposes utilizing funding from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Rural Utilities Service fund. The minimum download speeds would be raised from 4 to 24 megabits per second and a minimum upload speed of 3 Mbps. 

Organic food standards may change in 2018 farm bill. | National Development and Reform Commission

The House bill includes a new requirement for the organic industry. The National Organic Standards Board, which decides what substances are allowed to be labeled as organic products, must to refer to the FDA and EPA to define labeling. The funds allotted are $11.5 million. The National Organic Standards Board is referred to as an independent governmental organization. Critics say the new requirement weakens organic standards. 

The Senate version of the bill also includes a revision to the National Organic Standards Board. In this version, soil policy is the focus and includes a pilot program with the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. The program pays farmers to improve their soil health and measure soil carbon. It’s one way farmers can help fight climate change.

The Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting is a nonprofit, online newsroom offering investigative and enterprise coverage of agribusiness, Big Ag and related issues through data analysis, visualizations, in-depth reports and interactive web tools. Visit us online at www​.inves​ti​gatemid​west​.org

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Kaolin Sewell is a content editor and reporter for the Midwest Center for Investigative Reporting. She grew up in the Chicago suburbs away from farmland and agriculture but is excited to gain a new perspective in her reporting. Kaolin recently graduated from The University of Illinois and received her master’s degree in journalism from the College of Media. At Illinois, she was the executive producer for Good Morning Illini, a student-run morning show and worked for the Daily Illini, student newspaper, creating student guides for various University events.
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