Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, the only lawmaker to chair the Senate and House Agriculture committees, will retire in 2020 after four decades in Congress. Roberts was the author of the landmark Freedom to Farm law of 1996 that removed most federal controls over what crops farmers grow.
Congress is expected to send President Trump a farm bill this week that makes nieces, nephews and first cousins of farmers eligible for crop subsidies, a setback in the decades-old drive to control farm spending. Farm groups learned of the decision ahead of the formal release of the final version of the bill. House and Senate negotiators signed the so-called conference report on Monday, the first step toward a final vote on the $87 billion-a-year bill.
Under orders from President Trump to cut spending by 5 percent, the USDA may try to slash the taxpayer-subsidized crop insurance program, eliminate a green-payment program, or take an ax to its research agencies, if recent proposals are any indication.
The USDA announced a new insurance policy on Wednesday to shield dairy farmers from unexpected declines in revenue from milk sales. The insurance “will bring an extra level of support to a dairy sector that has been battered by losses over the past four years,” said the American Farm Bureau Federation.
Nearly 11 months after Hurricane Harvey hit the Gulf Coast of Texas, the USDA said it will pay up to $900,000 in disaster relief to producers who suffered losses due to hurricanes or wildfires last year.
The Senate farm bill will clamp down on payments to so-called managers who live in town and exercise little control over farm operations, announced the leaders of the Agriculture Committee on Wednesday. Still to be resolved was a proposal to make the wealthiest farmers pay more for federally subsidized crop insurance.
In a procedural vote, senators indicated strong support on Monday for the bipartisan farm bill written by Senate Agriculture Committee leaders, voting 89-3 to open debate on the $87-billion-a-year legislation.
Although Congress is weeks or even months away from sending the 2018 farm bill to President Trump for enactment, the end of the road is near for reformers, whose last chance lies in the Senate. The crop insurance industry, a popular target for fiscal hawks and other critics, is asking senators to vote against "amendments that would do significant harm" to the federally subsidized program during debate that could end with Senate passage of the bill this week.
The leaders of the Senate Agriculture Committee are treading a surprisingly tortuous path to a bipartisan farm bill that would make no major changes in food stamps, farm supports or crop insurance. They are expected to unveil their package this month, a major advance toward enacting a farm bill before the 2014 law expires on Sept. 30.