WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senator Cindy Hyde-Smith (R-Miss.) today voted to advance a new five-year farm bill authorizing a broad array of policies and programs important to Mississippi agriculture and rural America.
The Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee approved the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 on a bipartisan 20-1 vote, clearing the legislation for Senate consideration this summer. The wide-ranging measure, which streamlines and reforms many programs, is budget neutral according to the Congressional Budget Office.
The committee-approved bill also includes four amendments authored by Hyde-Smith.
“Farmers and ranchers in Mississippi and across the country want as much certainty as they can get. This new farm bill makes strong strides to give them that by strengthening safety net programs and builds on trade-related programs,” said Hyde-Smith, who served two terms as the Mississippi Commissioner of Agriculture and Commerce. “I am confident that Mississippi’s approximate 36,000 farms, 11 million acres of farmland, and 20 million acres of forestland will be well-served by this legislation.”
The Commodity Title maintains strong support for commodity, dairy, livestock, and other producers. It reauthorizes the important Price Loss Coverage (PLC) program at current levels and maintains the provision allowing cotton to be eligible for PLC enacted in the Bipartisan Budget Act of 2018. No harmful changes to producer eligibility or program level support are included in the legislation.
“Reauthorizing the Price Loss Coverage program will ensure that producers have adequate protection when market prices are low, and maintaining the current-level support structure will help our larger producers remain in business when times are very, very tough,” Hyde-Smith said.
The Nutrition Title makes improvements to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) to increase program integrity while still providing food assistance to those in need. It includes provisions to encourage SNAP beneficiaries to work and eliminates performance-based bonuses paid to states. Nutrition spending in this farm bill is estimated to be roughly $12 billion below 2014 farm bill levels
“While the bill makes improvements to the SNAP program, I will continue to work with my colleagues to further strengthen work requirements and incentivize employment and self-sustainability. As Ronald Reagan used to say, ‘The best social program is a job.’ These programs were intended to provide temporary assistance, illuminating a pathway to work, not the other way around,” Hyde-Smith said.
The Conservation Title continues a number of programs important to Mississippi producers and landowners such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, Conservation Stewardship Program, and the Farmable Wetland Program, among others. The bill reinforces policies allowing producers to continue growing crops on highly-productive lands while minimizing the environmental footprint, as well as permitting the enrollment of marginal lands into easements for improving water quality and wildlife habitat.
The Rural Development Title reauthorizes the Delta Regional Authority, the Delta Health Care Services grant program, and programs to assist rural communities with water and waste disposal systems. The Senate bill also places a strong emphasis on rural broadband services. In addition, the research title extends and improves various initiatives key to Mississippi’s public universities and land grant institutions. The forestry title authorizes several new initiatives important to the timber industry and private landowners.
“The Senate bill ensures Mississippi will continue to benefit from forestry, conservation, and rural development provisions, including a strong emphasis on rural broadband. Our universities and land grant institutions’ involvement in agricultural research has been improved in this bill,” Hyde-Smith said.
Amendments offered by Hyde-Smith, none of which have a direct spending impact on the 2018 farm bill, were accept by the Agriculture Committee. They include:
· Franklin County Rural Economic Development – Directs the Secretary of Agriculture to transfer 150 acres around Okhissa Lake in Franklin County to the Scenic Rivers Development Alliance for rural economic development;
· Safety Net for Flood-Prone Farms – Directs the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation to conduct research and development on more affordable crop insurance policies for farmers within the Lower Mississippi Valley affected by frequent flooding;
· Chronic Wasting Disease – Amends the USDA research title to make chronic wasting disease a high-priority research focus within land-grant extension services;
· Healthy Forests Reserve Program – Reauthorizes the Healthy Forests Reserve Program to help landowners restore, enhance, and protect forest ecosystems in order to promote the recovery of threatened and endangered species, and improve biodiversity. The 2014 farm bill authorized $12 million in discretionary funding annually, subject to appropriations, FY2014-2018. This amendment extends authorization through 2023.