By Jessica Domel
Multimedia Reporter

After a handful of listening sessions, hundreds of comments and weeks of negotiations, the 2018 Farm Bill was officially signed into law today.

Texas Farm Bureau (TFB) Vice President Mark Chamblee of Smith County and Secretary-Treasurer Scott Frazier of Nueces County attended the signing ceremony at the White House–continuing the integral role Texans and those involved in agriculture played in the crafting of the bill.

While farmers and ranchers may not have had a direct hand in ironing out the details of the farm, nutrition and conservation legislation, their questions, concerns and stories helped guide the farm bill conference committee’s work, according to U.S. Congressman Mike Conaway of Texas.

“Well over 1,000 people came before our groups (at the listening sessions) and poured their hearts out as to why this farm bill’s important, what it does for them, what it doesn’t do for them and those kind of things,” Conaway, chair of the House Committee on Agriculture, told the Texas Farm Bureau (TFB) Radio Network. “It was important. It was good to have that passion and have that emotion you saw there as a motivating factor to say, ‘I’ve got to get this done.’”

For the first time since 1990, a farm bill was passed in the same year the legislation was written.

“Crafting a bill of this magnitude and importance isn’t an easy task. We truly appreciate the hundreds of hours the farm bill conference committee, ag committees and their staff put in to ensure the nation’s farmers and ranchers have the safety net they need to continue feeding and clothing the world,” TFB President Russell Boening said.

Crafting the farm bill wasn’t easy, Conaway said, but the needs of farmers and ranchers are greater that they have been in a long time due to an uncertain farm economy and several years of decline in net farm income.

“Our nation’s farmers and ranchers are the very best in the world, but they cannot compete alone against a sea of high and rising foreign subsidies, tariffs and non-tariff trade barriers,” Conaway, one of the “Big Four” negotiators for the deal, said. “Nor can they survive alone in the face of record droughts, hurricanes, wildfires and other natural disasters. That’s why we have a farm bill.”

The number one request most farmers had while talking to Conaway was to “do no harm” to federal crop insurance.

The 2018 Farm Bill honors that request.

“Food security is national security and depends on strong agricultural policy that provides certainty and stability for the 3.75 million Texans employed by the agriculture sector,” U.S. Congressman Will Hurd of Texas said. “I am proud to support the farm bill and will continue to fight for the hardworking men and women who put clothes on our backs and food on our tables.”

The legislation strengthens the farm safety net by allowing farmers to choose between Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) or Price Loss Coverage (PLC) on a year-by-year, crop-by-crop basis beginning in 2021.

The decision made in 2019 will be used for both 2019 and 2020.

There will be a nationwide yield update for PLC beginning with the 2020 crop year. Improvements to ARC include increased yield plugs and yield trend adjustments.

“This legislation includes critical changes that allow farmers to have more control over the safety net that provides a helping hand—not a hand out—when times get tough,” Boening said.

Individual Farm Service Agency loan limits are increased in the farm bill for the first time in 16 years.

“We strengthened key conservation initiatives, especially the Environmental Quality Incentives Program,” Conaway said. “These highly-successful conservation initiatives serves as a prime example of how voluntary, incentive-based conservation beats burdensome, arbitrary and costly Washington regulations every time.”

To enhance agricultural trade, the farm bill streamlines market promotion initiatives under one umbrella. An additional $470 million is allocated to those trade promotion initiatives.

“We increased agricultural research funding at a time when we are dangerously lagging behind China. We provided Secretary (Sonny) Perdue with the tools he requested to effectively combat the opioid epidemic and also to expand high-quality broadband service to all of rural America,” Conaway said.

Funding for research, extension and education projects increases $600 million in the bill.

“We increase investment in new crop uses and in specialty crops, including fruits and vegetables,” Conaway said.

The 800-plus page bill provides funding for programs that deal with fraudulent organics and indoor and rooftop farming.

U.S. Congressman Filemon Vela of Texas, a member of the House Committee on Agriculture and farm bill conference committee, advocated for a fund to support the Emergency Citrus Disease Research and Extension Program to combat pests and diseases harmful to citrus.

“I successfully worked to include a $25 million Citrus Trust Fund through the Specialty Crop Research Initiative and a National Animal Disease Preparedness and Response Program,” Vela said. “I secured protections for cotton and sugar programs that are important to the South Texas economy.”

The National Animal Disease Preparedness and Response Program addresses the risk of introduction and spread of animal pests and diseases affecting U.S. livestock.

A cattle fever tick program is also included in the bill to combat the deadly livestock pest.

The legislation allocates $300 million for animal disease prevention and management efforts, including the stockpiling of the foot-and-mouth disease vaccine.

The bill also makes industrial hemp production legal nationwide. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) will have to develop federal rules and regulations. In the meantime, the Texas Legislature may opt to allow some to grow hemp for research until USDA develops its policy on hemp production.

A feral hog control project and crop insurance for hops are also included in the farm bill.

It extends a federal ban on animal fighting to U.S. territories and provides millions in additional funding to historically black land grant universities, as well.

The farm bill also corrects the former Margin Protection Program for Dairy that many dairy organizations said was not working.

The new Dairy Margin Coverage program has more coverage options and more flexible tools for less money.

The 2014 Farm Bill expired Sept. 30, but many provisions were funded through the end of the crop year.

The Margin Protection Program for Dairy was set to expire at the end of the year had Congress not taken action.

The U.S. Senate approved the farm bill in an 87-13 vote Dec. 11.

Both senators from Texas, John Cornyn and Ted Cruz, voted in favor of the legislation.

The farm bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives in a 369-47 vote Dec. 12.

All but five members of the Texas Congressional delegation voted in favor of the bill: Congressmen Lloyd Doggett, Louie Gohmert, Jeb Hensarling, Sam Johnson and John Ratcliffe.