The U.S. Senate approved a new five-year Farm Bill today by 87 votes to 13, sending the conference committee compromise to the U.S. House. The final version rejected efforts to undermine food assistance programs, which House Republicans had approved this summer. Provisions affecting conservation, the environment, and rural communities were a mixed bag; the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition and Center for Rural Affairs summarized the key points.
Iowa’s senators have rarely voted differently in the past four years, especially on major legislation. But today Senator Chuck Grassley was among the thirteen Republicans to oppose the new Farm Bill. Though he acknowledged some positive features, Grassley could not get past the failure to impose “hard caps on what any one farmer can get,” a reform he’s advocated for many years. He also blasted a “new gimmick” that “makes more subsidies available to the wealthiest farmers and many non-farmers.”
In contrast, Senator Joni Ernst hailed a “farmer-focused” bill containing several bipartisan provisions she co-sponsored.
I enclose below a video and transcript of Grassley’s speech explaining his vote, as well as Ernst’s full written statement on the bill.
Floor remarks on December 11 by Senator Chuck Grassley:
Grassley first thanked some colleagues for their hard work on the Farm Bill, singling out Ernst’s push to reform the Conservation Reserve Program. My transcript of the remainder of his remarks:
Unfortunately, the 2018 Farm Bill did not include another critical reform that would help young and beginning farmers. And that is my payment limitation amendment. This is a process that I’ve been trying to get accomplished, and have been unsuccessful, through at least this Farm Bill and two previous Farm Bills. Each time I’ve been successful in getting these reforms through the United States Senate, and in the 2014 Farm Bill, I was able to get them through both the House and Senate in the same form.
But you know what? In the dark rooms of conference committee meetings and phone calls, people that don’t like to save the taxpayers money and don’t want to help young and beginning farmers, and medium-sized and smaller farmers, and worry more about the wealthy farmers, have been able to undercut the effort. Even when a majority of both bodies has supported it.
So I didn’t give up as a result of the 2014 bill and the disappointment there. I got through the United States Senate, those hard caps on what any one farmer can get, and to make sure that the people that benefited from it were in fact farmers and not non-farmers that had maybe had a distant relationship from some farming operation. Maybe even being on Wall Street.
So once again, I got undercut in this effort to save the taxpayers money and to concentrate our Farm Bill on medium- and small-sized farmers that need the help, when things have happened naturally, or politically or internationally, that are beyond their control, that drive down prices, or acts of God like a drought. It’s the small and medium-sized farmers that needs the help from the government. Not these big, big farmers and corporate farmers that we’re going to end up helping the way this bill is written.
So to say the least I’m disappointed the bill makes more subsidies available to the wealthiest farmers and many non-farmers. And to say anything else, or to say that is a severe understatement. I’m more than just a little disappointed. Especially when the impact of large farmers being allowed to manipulate the system is that young and beginning farmers face even larger hurdles.
So far the bill has not won much praise outside of Washington lobby groups, whose members will receive more taxpayer subsidies from a few select changes. At its core, farm policy should be a limited safety net to help farmers weather the storm of natural disasters, unpredictable commodity markets, and other unforeseen challenges. And this bill goes well beyond that limited safety net.
Today we have a Farm Bill that is intentionally written–and I want to emphasize intentionally written–to help the largest farmers receive unlimited subsidies from the federal government. There is no other way to characterize what the conference committee has done in this area.
In the last Farm Bill, both bodies of Congress approved the common-sense amendment that I offered that would have limited the abuses related to Title I subsidies. This time, the House would not even have that debate. No debate on my reforms. The Senate did, however, and the Senate did include it in their bill.
However, the 2014 conference committee put in a loophole that exempted family farms, which account for approximately 95 percent of farms from the new rules. The bill makes their original loophole even larger.
So as bad as the 2014 Farm Bill was, this new five-year Farm Bill widens that loophole almost beyond explaining. The new Farm Bill will allow nieces and nephews to qualify as part of a family farm without any new requirements that they actually have to work.
Despite what some of my colleagues may say, this is not about helping nieces and nephews get into farming. Why? Because every person who really farms already qualifies for Title I payments by themselves, without this new gimmick. So this new gimmick is just to award this big taxpayer money to people that aren’t actually working the farm. Allowing nieces and nephews to qualify as part of a large farm entity merely allows larger farmers to get more subsidies. They just need to hire the right lawyer to structure the farming operation a certain way, and they can then receive unlimited taxpayer subsidies.
For years, I’ve been using this figure about the top 10 percent of the farmers receiving more than 70 percent of the subsidies from the government. That’s only one of the many reasons it’s so hard for young and beginning farmers to get started. I know it’s hard to believe, but I’ve never heard a single young or beginning farmer tell me that the way to help the young and beginning farmer is to give more money out of the U.S. Treasury to the largest farmers.
Many farmers are hurting from the downturn in the commodity prices. And that’s been a downturn over the last three or four years. Corn and soybeans have had significant price declines in those years. If only all crops were as lucky as cotton, with this high prices insured by the federal government over the last year, then all people would be, what we say, living in the clover.
However, market corrections do not justify Congress expanding subsidy loopholes that only benefit the wealthy. Especially at a time when our large-term fiscal situation is as bad as it’s ever been. The last time we passed a Farm Bill, our national debt was 17 trillion dollars. Today it stands at 21.8 trillion dollars, and we all know that it’s growing. […] This bill represents an open-ended spigot of taxpayer subsidies in the Title I programs of the bill. Because of this, when we cast our vote about one hour ago, I voted against this Farm Bill, that otherwise is a pretty basic program. But we could have done a lot more to save taxpayers money, and we didn’t. I yield the floor.
December 11 press release from Senator Joni Ernst:
Ernst: “This Farm Bill is farmer-focused and welcome news for Iowans”
WASHINGTON – After months of hard-work and negotiation, the U.S. Senate passed the 2018 Farm Bill today, with strong bipartisan support.
“The 2018 Farm Bill is farmer-focused and welcome news for Iowa. 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. 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,” said Senator Joni Ernst.
Senator Joni Ernst is a member of the Conference Committee and is the Chairman of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Subcommittee on Rural Development and Energy. The 2018 Farm Bill Conference Committee released the final text of the 2018 Farm Bill Conference Report on December 10, 2018 and the final bill passed the Senate today (December 11, 2018).
The 2018 Farm Bill provides much-needed certainty and predictability for Iowa producers, and all of rural America, and is the result of years of bipartisan work across the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate.
The 2018 Farm Bill includes many of Senator Ernst’s priorities:
· Strengthening Conservation Programs: Portions of the bipartisan Give Our Resources the Opportunity to Work (GROW) Act of 2018 will revise and strengthen the current provisions of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP). And, provisions from the bipartisan Regional Conservation Partnership Program Improvement Act will strengthen the Regional Conservation Partnership Program and incentivize rural and urban partnerships for conservation.
· Providing Critical Mental Health Support for Farmers: The entirety of the bipartisan Facilitating Accessible Resources for Mental Health and Encouraging Rural Solutions For Immediate Response to Stressful Times (FARMERS FIRST) Act was included and will provide our nation’s agricultural community with critical mental health support and resources.
· Supporting Our Nation’s Dairy Farmers: The 2018 Farm Bill includes a proposal for a pilot program that would encourage Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients to purchase more milk to improve participants’ diets, especially lower-income families with children.
· Protecting Farmers Against Adverse Changes in Market Conditions: Provisions from bipartisan legislation that strengthen and improve the Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC)-County Level program are included in the 2018 Farm Bill, specifically provisions that: require payments to be based on the physical location of a farm; prioritize the use of actual county yield data; encourage the Secretary to pro rate base acres and payments where appropriate; and, prioritize the yields compiled by the Risk Management Agency (RMA) as the data for ARC.