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Farm Bill Conference Committee Holds First Meeting This Week

farm tractor in field
WAMC/Pat Bradley

The 56-member Farm Bill conference committee met for the first time this week. The current Farm Bill, which sets agriculture and nutrition program policy for five years, expires on September 30th.  The House and Senate conferees expressed hope that a compromise bill can be crafted despite significant differences in the bills approved by each chamber.
Nine Senators and 47 House representatives are on the conference committee that will work out the differences between the versions of the Farm Bill.

As committee members spoke this week there were only 10 legislative days remaining before the current Farm Bill expires. Committee chair Senator Pat Roberts of Kansas echoed the urgency that most members expressed regarding the need to come to a bipartisan agreement.  “Getting a Farm Bill done is paramount to any other issue and concern. It is not an exaggeration to say that our nation’s food and fiber production capability hangs in the balance with what we do here on this legislation. Time is of the essence. We are endeavoring to craft a 2018 Farm Bill that meets the needs of producers across all regions and all crops. All of agriculture is struggling not just one or two commodities.”

The most significant issue that must be bridged appears to be differences in SNAP – Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – also known as Food Stamps. Pennsylvania Republican Congressman Glenn Thompson supports the House measure, which proposes $20 billion in cuts and implementation of work requirements.  “Real and ultimate food security  only comes from a family-sustaining job. Our goal is always to ensure that those truly in need will have access to quality food through SNAP.  However while we write a Farm Bill that meets that objective we also have a tremendous opportunity to provide SNAP beneficiaries the tools and skills needed to thrive in a booming economy.”

Massachusetts Democratic Congressman Jim McGovern of the second district supports the Senate version, which removes SNAP work provisions.  “The House Agriculture committee held 23 hearings on SNAP in the 2 ½ years leading up to the 2018 Farm Bill and I attended every single one of them. Not a single one of our 90 witnesses suggested that we cut SNAP benefits by over $20 billion and reduce or eliminate benefits for nearly 2 million kids, veterans, working families and vulnerable adults.  Honest to God with all the partisan bickering in our country you would think reducing hunger might be something we all could agree on. But in the House of Representatives it’s controversial. I hope my colleagues will join me in supporting the Senate version of this bill with regard to nutrition.”

New York Congressman Paul Tonko of the 20th district noted that he grew up working on his grandparents’ dairy farm, which led to a deep appreciation for agriculture and its needs.  "The Farm Bill final version must support family farms and I again emphasize our dairy farms, protect SNAP beneficiaries, eliminate harmful environmental provisions and promote economic opportunities in rural America through clean energy, clean water and broadband deployment.”

Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy, a Democrat, noted that the Farm Bill affects everyone — not just agricultural producers.  “It’s crucial to our economy,  our environment, our national security interests.  America’s farmers are struggling with both weather and trade disturbances. Vermont dairy farmers the crisis has driven many out of business. And I think what we’re doing is trying to address that. All of  them. And we must also ensure our nutrition programs remain strong and accessible to those who need them. And I hope that we’ll be able to work out the differences with the House bill because I’m afraid what’s in there could exacerbate hunger.”

The Farm Bill includes provisions on agriculture, nutrition, conservation, rural development, energy, forestry and research.

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