Washington Update

WASHINGTON UPDATE

2018 Farm Bill headed to the President’s desk

After two years of legislative hearings, farm country listening tours, and intense policy discussions, the 2018 Farm Bill debate has come to an end. The conference negotiators released the final Farm Bill text on December 10. Shortly thereafter, the House voted 369-47 and the Senate voted 87-13 to pass the bill and send it to President Trump who is expected to sign. The bipartisan agreement is supported by a wide variety of agriculture constituencies.

For the last few months, House and Senate negotiators have been trying to reconcile the differences between their respective bills. One of the major sticking points in the negotiations was the House bill’s proposed work requirements for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients, provisions that the final agreement omits. Some of the new policy changes in the bill include provisions defining hemp as an agricultural product and removing it from the Controlled Substances Act; expansion of export marketing programs including provisions to allow Market Access Program and Foreign Market Development funds to be used for marketing U.S. agriculture products in Cuba; expansion of crop insurance coverage to additional crops including hops and barley; and funding and expansion of organic production research. After the president signs the bill, USDA will begin the implementation process for the new five-year, $867 billion legislation.

Government funding

While Congress has sent FY2019 funding bills to the President for most government agencies, several, including the Departments of Homeland Security, Agriculture, Treasury, Interior, EPA, and FDA, are only funded through December 21. Lawmakers have not been able to come to agreement on a package that meets President Trump’s demands for $5 billion in funding for a wall on the U.S.-Mexico border. Tensions increased after a December 11 meeting between the President and House and Senate Democratic Leaders Nancy Pelosi and Chuck Schumer; however, it now seems likely that lawmakers will pass another short-term stopgap bill to fund these agencies into next year – avoiding a partial government shutdown.

U.S.-Mexico-Canada Agreement

On November 30, President Trump, Mexican President Peña Nieto, and Canadian Prime Minister Trudeau signed the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement at the G20 Summit in Buenos Aires. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has praised the agreement as a win for U.S. agriculture. There is not currently a timeline nor certainty of approval of the agreement by Congress. President Trump recently suggested that he would begin the formal process to withdraw from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) in order to put pressure on Congress to approve the new trade agreement.

Waters of the United States (WOTUS)

On December 11, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Army Corps of Engineers proposed a new definition for “Waters of the United States” (WOTUS) as regulated by the federal Clean Water Act. The proposal makes significant changes to water and wetlands definitions put in place during the Obama Administration. The proposal was widely hailed by agriculture industry groups and criticized by environmental organizations. After the proposal is published in the Federal Register, the agencies will take comments for 60 days before promulgating a final rule. Congressional hearings are expected on the proposal after the new session begins in January.