What does the 2018 Farm Bill mean for Kentucky Farmers?

It’s been a long road, but the House and Senate overwhelmingly passed the 2018 farm bill this past week.

Around 80 percent of the $867 billion bill funds nutrition programs, but it also provides funds for key farm programs for the next 10 years.

The bill expands federal crop insurance and makes improvements to vital programs such as the Marketing Loan Program, Price Loss Coverage and Agriculture Risk Coverage.

Christian County famer Joseph Sisk said the bill is good news for Kentucky farmers.

“Maintaining crop insurance protection and the ability to manage our risk year to year through the ARC and PLC programs are a great benefit with the current price structure in the grain markets,” Sisk said.

Ryan Bivens, a LaRue County farmer and chairman of the Kentucky Soybean Board and member of the Kentucky State Fair board, expressed his pleasure in the passage of the bill last week.

“It is critical, especially now during a depressed farm economy, to be able to have a safety net put into place to help protect American agriculture,” Bivens said.

Warren Beeler, executive director of the Governor’s Office of Agricultural Policy, said “relieved and thankful” came to mind with news that the bill will become law.

“The farm bill is the most critical legislation to sustaining agriculture and especially insurance programs that can limit risk for producers,” Beeler said.

Congressman James Comer, a former Kentucky agriculture commissioner, said the safety net is a must to protect the production of food and fiber when commodity prices are low, as they are now.

“If there wasn’t federal crop insurance, then banks wouldn’t loan money or give lines of credit for the next year’s production,” Comer noted.

Comer is also pleased that the farm bill shores up some funding for USDA’s Rural Utilities Service loan and grant programs, which give priority to rural internet access.  Kentucky ranks in the bottom 10 percent of broadband access among states.

“As I travel across the district one of the biggest complaints is, there is no broadband,” Comer said.

A provision for broadband did not appear to be part of the president’s proposed infrastructure bill, and the farm bill was the last opportunity to allocate funding for public broadband.

Comer said the funds would develop public-private partnerships, not a new government entity.  He hopes that phone or electric companies will take up the call to provide this service.

“I know that it might not be profitable to go into rural Cumberland County, but someone has to do it, and that’s what the funding is for.”

When asked about KentuckyWireless – a tax-supported broadband project – Comer was empathic, “That’s a ripoff!” He said the company had spent millions of dollars and there is nothing to show for it, and it is very disheartening.

While the farm bill passed with strong support from both sides of the aisle, SNAP was a major stumbling block in the bill’s passage.

“That was an area where I didn’t get everything I wanted,” Comer said. He helped lead efforts for work requirements for able-bodied SNAP recipients, but the measure didn’t make it to the final version of the bill.

With the strength of the economy and a shortage of workers, Comer said there is no better time to pass welfare reform and get people back in the workforce.

Without legislative reform, Comer said Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue believes he has the ability to make changes in the SNAP program within USDA to transition some people from SNAP to the workforce.

“It probably isn’t going to be the number of people the farm bill legislation would have helped,” he said.

As a final note, Comer said there is funding for land grant and non-land grant universities.

Tony Brannon, dean of the Hutson School of Agriculture, said the farm bill change is important to colleges such as Murray State University.

“This farm bill clarified and made more attainable capacity building grants for non-land grant colleges of agriculture through a new definition of qualifying schools.  This will help continue Murray State Hutson School of Agriculture’s recent success of obtaining critical capacity building funding from USDA, Brannon said.

By Toni Riley

PolicyJennifer Elwell