The Senate Farm Bill draft was unveiled by Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) on June 8. According to committee leaders, the bill appears to have bipartisan support and has the potential to be passed by the end of June by the Senate. The California Farm Bureau Federation (CFBF) believes the bill provides some significant benefits to the state’s farmers and ranchers.
“Overall this is a very positive bill for agriculture, it has a lot of provisions that we were worried would be either on the chopping block or cut altogether,” said CFBF Manager of Federal Policy Josh Rolph. “I think if you’re a California producer of just about any commodity, you’re going to like what’s in the Senate bill.”
One the most substantial benefits contained in the Senate draft of the Farm Bill is the language used for mechanization research that builds on the provisions in the House Farm Bill. “Not only do they have that language that prioritizes mechanization in a few different grant programs, but it also carves out some funding so that those funds will be dedicated to mechanization,” Rolph stated.
A significant concern for California was what would happen to some of the programs related to specialty crops. As specialty crops were only introduced into the Farm Bill within the last ten years, there was a thought that the newer the program, the more likely it would be to get cut. However, Rolph noted the Senate Farm Bill is considerate of the value of specialty crops. “A lot of the specialty crop programs have been protected,” said Rolph.
CFBF was also pleased with some small changes that were made to a dairy donation program, along with continued funding for several different types of conservation programs and the maintenance of trade programs that provide necessary market access. Other positive impressions of the bill were the continued funding for research, energy programs, and forestry.
While the overall view of the Senate Farm Bill is a positive one, no bill is perfect and there were some aspects that were disappointing in the draft. Rolph mentioned the organization was let down by the fact that the definition of “rural” was not amended. Because of California’s demographics and the current rural definition based on county populations, it keeps communities from receiving financial support for things like broadband infrastructure and water quality issues. “That’s something we’re going to be encouraging out Senators, Senators Feinstein and Harris, for one of them to introduce an amendment that would address that definition,” Rolph stated.
Another issue with the latest draft of the Farm Bill relates to the adjusted gross income (AGI) limit. The bill reduces the level from $900,000 to $700,000, citing the potential for abuse as a reason for the reduction. “There are farmers who bring in well over the $700,000 amount who live in very modest homes and drive modest cars because they have to. Farming is a risk-based business and you might have a very good year and then five really bad years. So, the AGI limit does not work for California and that’s something we’re going to be fighting back on,” said Rolph.
Listen to Rolph’s interview below.