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Legislatively Speaking
Legislatively Speaking: Congress passes Farm Bill

By Alma Graham

  JANUARY 5, 2019 --

Last month I mentioned that one of the top priorities for the Grange was passage of the Farm Bill.  There was a question if this could be accomplished during the Federal House and Senate lame duck session.   Well, they recently passed a Farm Bill with bi-partisan support.  The last Farm Bill took two years to pass. The bill includes language including nutrition programs, farmland preservation, dairy support programs, specialist block grants and crop insurance.

Reaction from the farming community and legislators seem to all be in favor of the bill.  They did say that there are some areas that could be improved but that would be said of any bill passed.  

The Agricultural Improvement Act or ‘Farm Bill’ authorizes the funding of many different farm programs as well as federal nutrition programs.  These programs had officially expired on September 30th and have been running with extensions.

The largest expense in the Farm Bill is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP.  The funding level is remaining the same as the previous bill.  There was a recommendation that they add a work requirement for able bodied SNAP participants but that was removed.  There is also funding to prioritize substance abuse recovery programs.  

One measure that many feel can be an opportunity for agricultural growth in Connecticut is the expansion of industrial hemp production.  The bill removed hemp and its derivates from Controlled Substances and set it up under Agriculture.  The bill set up guidelines on strength and sets the stage for developing guidelines for testing, inspections and disposal.

The Conservation portion of the bill sets aside more than $6 billion for funding a diverse set of programs.  One program is the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program (ACEP) which works with the USDA and states to permanently protect prime farmland.  The Farm Bill increased funding to $450 million for the ACEP program over the next 5 years.  The bill also incorporated some guidelines to simplify the process which expedites the preservation process.

The dairy section of the Farm Bill offers welcome relief for Connecticut dairy farmers.  The last Farm Bill set up an insurance program that farmers had to buy into to protect against low milk prices.  The farmers felt that this did not help much.  The new Farm Bill reorganizes the program to the Dairy Margin Coverage Payment Program and reduces the cost to affordable premiums.  It also offers incentives for dairy producers to pay farmers who donate surplus milk to charitable organizations.

Another plus for Connecticut is that the bill allows shellfish farmers access to crop insurance programs and services that were not previously available to them.


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