Friday, June 08, 2018

Senate leaders reach bipartisan deal on Farm Bill; includes McConnell measure to fully legalize hemp farming

"Leaders of the Senate Agriculture Committee have reached agreement on a bipartisan Farm Bill that would keep the 2014 farm law largely intact while avoiding a partisan fight over food stamps," Philip Brasher and Spencer Chase report for Agri-Pulse. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., promised to bring the bill to the floor by the end of the month. It includes a McConnell provision legalizing industrial hemp, distinguishing it from marijuana.

The Senate bill has two key differences from the recently defeated House bill: It won't include expanded work requirements for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (food stamp) recipients, and it preserves the Conservation Stewardship Program. It also allows the Conservation Reserve Program to expand to 25 million acres, up from the 24 million-acre limit imposed by the 2014 Farm Bill. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., largely ignored Midwestern senators' requests to overhaul crop-insurance programs to be more attractive to corn growers, since he believed they would have hurt growers in other states, Brasher and Chase report.

McConnell's provision would legalize "as an agricultural commodity by removing it from the list of controlled substances," his office said in a press release. "It also gives states the opportunity to become the primary regulators of hemp production, allows hemp researchers to apply for competitive federal grants from the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and makes hemp farmers eligible to apply for crop insurance." The last Farm Bill legalized pilot programs for hemp farming, overseen by state agriculture departments.

UPDATE, 4 p.m.: Agri-Pulse has the text of the bill: "The adjusted gross income limit for commodity payments would be reduced to $700,000 a year, from the current limit of $900,000." Organic agriculture would get $50 million a year, up from $20 million, along with new rules to fight fraud. One of the few new programs would be "a pilot program to provide produce to low-income people through health-care providers." The bill "steered clear of some regulatory-relief provisions that are in the House bill," Brasher reports. It "omits language sought by the crop protection industry that would allow the Environmental Protection Agency to approve pesticides for use without going through the formal consultation process with the Fish and Wildlife Service and/or the National Marine Fisheries Service." The committee is scheduled to take up the bill Wednesday, June 13.

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