Wheat growers, allies see farm bill through finish line

After more than a year of meeting with legislators and advocating for Washington farmers, the Washington Association of Wheat Growers (WAWG) was gratified to see Congress act quickly in a bipartisan manner to pass the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, otherwise known as the 2018 Farm Bill, last month. The bill was signed into law by President Trump right before Christmas.

“The passage of the 2018 Farm Bill brings certainty to our growers by providing a strong safety net through commodity programs and keeping crop insurance stable and affordable. It also restores funding of the Foreign Market Development (FMD) program and Market Access Program (MAP) that are critical to maintaining our overseas markets,” said Jeffrey Shawver, WAWG president and a farmer from Connell, Wash. “Throughout this process, we had strong support from every member of Washington state’s federal delegation, and we want to thank our senators and representatives for their engagement with our industry. We truly appreciate their understanding of the importance of the wheat industry to our state’s economy.”

All members of Washington state’s federal delegation voted for the legislation.

The leadership and staff of WAWG made multiple trips to Washington, D.C., last year to make sure the wheat industry had a voice at the table. The final version of the farm bill included several of WAWG’s top priorities that they advocated for, including giving growers the option to reselect farm programs throughout the life of the farm bill; allowing the Farm Service Agency to use Risk Management Agency data when available to help determine farm program payments; increasing the Conservation Reserve Program acreage cap to 27 million; increased funding for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program; and research funding for alternative methods of adjusting for quality losses.

“This legislation is a win for agriculture,” said Michelle Hennings, executive director of WAWG. “Our wheat farmers need the support provided by the farm bill to continue supplying the country and the world with the safest, most affordable food available, especially when they are dealing with uncertainty around trade and low commodity prices. We look forward to working with Congress and the U.S. Department of Agriculture to implement this bill.”

WAWG worked closely with the National Association of Wheat Growers to work with members of Congress and both the Senate and House ag committees to educate them on issues facing the wheat industry. 

“The staff at the National Association of Wheat Growers worked tirelessly to represent our growers and provide feedback to Congress and the state organizations as the 2018 Farm Bill was being written. The wheat industry’s leadership at the national level has never been stronger,” Hennings concluded. Other important provisions in the 2018 Farm Bill include:

Title 1-Commodities

  • Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC)-County, ARC-Individual and Price Loss Coverage (PLC) are reauthorized.  
  • Farmers will have a re-election opportunity, on farm-by-farm and crop-by-crop basis, for the 2019 crop year, as well as a yearly election beginning in 2021.
  • Any farm that was planted entirely to grass or pasture between Jan. 1, 2009, and Dec. 31, 2017, will be ineligible for farm program payments during the five-year period of the farm bill. This ineligibility applies to cropland that was idle of fallow during that period. Base acres and payment yields will be maintained on those farms. 
  • Owners of a farm will have a one-time opportunity to update PLC yields on a commodity-by-commodity basis on the farm for which the election is made (there are limitations on the yield update).
  • A reference price provision enables both the ARC and PLC reference prices to increase if market prices improve.
  • For counties in which a Risk Management Agency (RMA) crop insurance product is available, the RMA yield should be used when determining ARC program payments; if RMA data is not available, then the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) has flexibility in determining other sources of data or can use the yield history of representative farms in the state, region or crop reporting district.
  • The physical location of a farm will be used to determine which ARC county rate applies to that farm.
  • USDA is required to publish separate irrigated and nonirrigated yields in each county.
  • Counties that meet certain size requirements may be split into no more than two administrative units; this provision is limited to 25 counties nationwide.
  • The bill maintains a hard cap of $125,000 per individual and expands the definition of family members to include first cousins, nieces and nephews.
  • The Adjusted Gross Income threshold for farm program eligibility is maintained at $900,000.

Title 2-Conservation

  • The CRP acreage cap will gradually increase to 27 million acres.
  • Continuous CRP and Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program (CREP) sign-ups are limited to 8 million acres in FY19 increasing to 8.6 million acres in FY22.
  • There are increased payments for Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) high priority practices (determined by states), and the program is funded at $1.75 billion in FY19 with funding increasing each year through FY2023.
  • Current Conservation Stewardship Program contract holders that would be eligible to renew in FY2019 will be allowed to renew under the old program.

Title 3-Trade

  • MAP and FMD, along with Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops (TASC) and Emerging Markets Program (EMP), were put under one umbrella program called the Priority Trade Promotion, Development and Assistance program. This new program has annual mandatory funding set at $255 million. MAP is to receive no less than $200 million annually, and FMD is to receive no less than $34.5 million. A Priority Trade Fund will receive $3.5 million per year, and the ag secretary will be given discretion to allocate among the programs.

Title 7-Research

  • The U.S. Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative received an increase in authorization from $10 million to $15 million. In addition, the bill specifies a limitation on indirect costs by any recipient of a program grant to be capped at 10 percent.

Title 11- Crop insurance

  • Cover crop termination will not affect the insurability of a subsequently planted insurable crop if the cover crop is terminated in accordance with parameters set in the bill.
  • In a county in which summer fallow is an insurable practice, a cover crop in that county terminated in accordance with parameters set in the bill shall be considered as summer fallow for the purpose of insurance.
  • Producers may establish a single enterprise unit by combining enterprise units in one or more other counties or all basic units and all optional units in one or more other counties.
  • The Corporation shall carry out research and development regarding the establishment of alternative methods of adjusting for quality losses, including a method that does not impact the actual production history of a producer and/or a method that provides that, in circumstances in which a producer has suffered a quality loss to the insured crop of the producer that is insufficient to trigger an indemnity payment, the producer may elect to exclude that quality loss from the actual production history of the producer.

The farm bill also legalized the production of hemp. It did not include cuts to food stamps or impose work requirements on older workers or parents with young children.