Thanks to majority control in the House of Representatives, Republicans in Washington D.C. narrowly passed a new federal farm bill on Thursday by the slimmest of margins on a partisan vote of 213-211.
“This legislation has been years in the making; we’ve hosted hundreds of hearings and made stops across the country to listen to rural America’s needs,” said Kansas First District Representative Dr. Roger Marshall said after the vote. “I am so proud to report we did it! We passed a budget-neutral farm bill that takes care of our farmers and ranchers.”
Democrats unanimously opposed the measure, saying it would move too many people off of government food assistance. Citing language in the bill which creates tougher work requirements for SNAP recipients. SNAP stands for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program formerly known as food stamps.
The term “farm bill” suggests, at face value, to be a piece of legislation geared toward agricultural producers. However, it would be more accurately described as an entitlement or welfare bill geared overwhelmingly toward consumers. Eighty percent of the funding allocated in the massive $869 billion package is the direct funding source for the SNAP program.
This leaves about $174 billion remaining to renew what can be described as a safety net for farmers by protecting crop insurance. It also simplifies conservation programs and rolls back what the majority of House members consider to be “heavy-handed” federal regulations on farmers and ranchers.
The bill also promises to expand rural broadband internet access, restore funding for trade promotion programs, invest in animal health, and provide programs designed to help young and beginning farmers.
Thursday’s vote marked the House’s second attempt to pass the measure. GOP leaders suffered a setback in May when 30 Republican members opposed its initial passage in an effort to force a vote on immigration legislation.
The renewed legislation comes at a time of concern and uncertainty for many in the ag industry. Low commodity prices across the nation stand in stark contrast to the high cost of doing business in agriculture.
Some have expressed concern that President Trump’s approach and tough talk on tariffs could potentially result in limited or reduced access to some foreign markets for U.S. ag products and other American exports as well.
In the Midwest, such concerns exist along with that of widespread drought conditions during most of the growing season has resulted in most wheat producing states releasing significantly lower than normal projections for the wheat harvest now underway and making its way northward.
Oklahoma may be the state hardest hit by Mother Nature’s stinginess when it comes moisture, or the lack-there-of, during the growing season. They have projected wheat harvest yields in the Sooner state to be roughly half of the annual average.
The passage of the House bill sets up an all but certain clash with the Senate version which is looking to make mostly modest adjustments to existing programs and not pick a fight over food stamps.