Roberts, Capito, Ernst vote to pass Farm Bill 2018 conference report

Both houses of Congress this week resolved their differences and approved the newly filed conference report for Farm Bill 2018, paving the way for the bipartisan legislation that supports the nation’s farmers and ranchers to become federal law.

U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts (R-KS), chairman of the U.S. Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee, released the text of the Farm Bill Conference Report, which included provisions from U.S. Sens. Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV) and Joni Ernst (R-IA).

“The goal, the responsibility, the absolute requirement is to provide farmers, ranchers, growers and everyone within America’s agriculture and food value chain certainty and predictability during these very difficult times. This Farm Bill meets the needs of producers across all regions and all crops,” Sen. Roberts said this week in support of the sweeping Farm Bill 2018.

The U.S. House of Representatives on Dec. 12 voted 369-47 to approve House Report (H.Rept) 115-1072, which a day earlier received U.S. Senate approval, 87-13. The report details changes the chambers made to the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, H.R. 2. The bill heads to President Donald Trump to be signed into law.

“I am proud that we did the work to made responsible choices to ensure we had a budget neutral bill,” said Sen. Roberts, who also served as chairman of the conference committee, adding that he will continue to work with the White House and the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) “to ensure the president signs this much needed bill into law as soon as possible.”

Sen. Ernst, a member of the Farm Bill 2018 conference committee and chairman of the U.S. Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Subcommittee on Rural Development and Energy, called the Farm Bill 2018 compromise “farmer-focused.”

“From strengthening conservation programs to providing critical mental health support through my FARMERS FIRST Act, the 2018 Farm Bill provides certainty for our farmers and strong support for our rural communities,” said Sen. Ernst. “I am proud to support the 2018 Farm Bill and would like to thank all the Iowans across the state who provided valuable information and feedback throughout this long process.”

Sen. Ernst was the lead original cosponsor for the bipartisan Facilitating Accessible Resources for Mental health and Encouraging Rural Solutions For Immediate Response to Stressful Times (FARMERS FIRST) Act, S. 2712, which was introduced in April by U.S. Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-WI) to establish a farm and ranch stress assistance network, among other purposes, according to the text of the bill in the congressional record.

Sen. Ernst said S. 2712 was included in the conference report in its entirety and will provide the nation’s agricultural community with critical mental health supports and resources.

S. 2712 is one among several of the senator’s priorities that made it into the final conference report, such as portions of the bipartisan Give our Resources the Opportunity to Work (GROW) Act of 2018, S. 2557, to revise and strengthen provisions in the Conservation Reserve Program. Sen. Ernst introduced the bill in March.

Sen. Capito, who voted on Tuesday in support of the final Farm Bill conference report, said the proposal also includes measures she introduced to improve access to rural broadband and to address wastewater challenges faced by rural communities.

For instance, Farm Bill 2018 will include a provision based on the bipartisan Broadband Connections for Rural Opportunities Programs (B-CROP) Act, S. 1676, for which she was the lead original cosponsor with U.S. Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand (D-NY), sponsor of the bill. The provision would make grant funding available for rural broadband projects in high-need areas to be awarded in combination with the current loan funding available through the USDA Rural Utilities Service, according to a summary from Sen. Capito’s office.

Another provision included in Farm Bill 2018 is based on the Residential Decentralized Wastewater Improvement Act, S. 2771, to establish a new program to provide grants to low- and moderate-income households for connecting homes to existing wastewater infrastructure or installing or upgrading individually owned decentralized wastewater systems, according to Sen. Capito’s summary. Sen. Capito was the original lead cosponsor of S. 2771, which she introduced on April 26 with bill sponsor U.S. Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ).

“In addition to supporting our farmers and ranchers, the final Farm Bill compromise includes many provisions that will help improve the lives of families and individuals living in rural states like West Virginia,” said Sen. Capito. “I look forward to President Trump signing this legislation into law and helping to deliver important resources and infrastructure for those who call rural America home.”

In gaining support for the conference report, Sen. Roberts said members first listened to the concerns of farmers and ranchers in order to negotiate a Farm Bill “that provides producers from all regions with certainty and predictability during these very difficult times in the farm economy.”

He also pointed out that key improvements to farm and livestock programs will help Kansans in his home state, which has been hard hit by the “economic consequences of low prices and surpluses.”

“Helping farmers and ranchers and the entire agriculture value chain to both better plan operations and persevere these conditions was our top priority,” the senator said.

Additionally, Sen. Roberts said lawmakers learned what they needed to do to improve emergency responses to wildfires, especially for livestock producers, and the compromise gives USDA more tools to address trade challenges.

“We are forward thinking on agriculture research and security, harnessing innovation to improve production and compete in a global marketplace [and] we have streamlined conservation programs and made common-sense reforms based on producer feedback,” he added.

Additionally, the conference report includes fixes for waste, fraud and inefficiencies in the nation’s nutrition programs “to better protect taxpayer dollars and ensure access to proper nutrition for the neediest among us,” said Sen. Roberts.

The senator also said he fought to ensure numerous pro-Kansas provisions were included in the final report, such as those related to crop insurance, commodity titles, conservation, trade, credit, and research, among others.

The bill also would revise existing National Animal Health Laboratory Network authority to establish the National Animal Disease Preparedness and Response Program and the National Animal Vaccine and Veterinary Countermeasures Bank, according to Sen. Roberts, which would allow for national stockpiling of countermeasures that would be used to respond to severe animal diseases.