WASHINGTON (DTN) -- President Donald Trump won't stop the farm bill over forestry issues and will instead direct Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to use all his powers to suppress forest fires, a knowledgeable source told DTN Thursday evening.
The American Farm Bureau Federation, the National Farmers Union, the National Corn Growers Association and the National Association of Wheat Growers all called for quick passage of the farm bill conference report, even though the text has not been released.
Even though Perdue and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said that the final farm bill should include provisions in the House-passed version to increase government agencies' authority to clear forest floors and thin trees, the White House will not insist on those provisions because Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., is not interested in making forestry a defining issue in the bill, the source said.
DTN was made aware of the White House position hours after the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate agriculture committees released a formal joint statement Thursday that they had reached an "agreement in principle" on a new farm bill, but that several steps remain before it can be sent to Trump for his signature.
"We're pleased to announce that we've reached an agreement in principle on the 2018 farm bill," the statement said. "We are working to finalize legal and report language as well as CBO scores, but we still have more work to do. We are committed to delivering a new farm bill to America as quickly as possible."
The statement came from House Agriculture Committee Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Kan., House Agriculture ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., and Senate Agriculture ranking member Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and was released by Conaway's office.
Roberts and Stabenow both told reporters Thursday that the conference report section on nutrition is closer to the Senate version of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) provision. The House version of the bill included stiffer work requirements for SNAP beneficiaries, but the Senate version includes only tougher enforcement provisions.
DTN also confirmed an earlier report that that farm bill would stick with a House plan that would allow nieces, nephews and cousins to qualify for commodity program payments. The bill also would keep the adjusted gross income limit for farm program recipients at the $900,000 a year. The Senate version of the bill would have lowered the AGI limit to $700,000.
Stabenow also said that both the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Conservation Security Program (CSP) will be continued, which means that the House plan to phase out CSP was not included. The provisions to allow the growing of hemp that are so important to McConnell are also apparently in the bill.
A lobbyist said congressional aides have said the issue of taking base acreage away from wheat growers who have planted land to grass to provide budget authority for a yield update for growers in drought areas has been handled by creating a new program for the growers with acreage planted to grass.
After the legislative text is written and the Congressional Budget Office scores the bill, the House-Senate conference committee must pass the bill and then it must be voted on by both the House and the Senate.
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, has said that the conference report might be attached to an appropriations bill to fund remaining government agencies if a majority of House Republicans do not agree to support it.
Congress needs to take some action on appropriations by Dec. 7 or some government agencies, including the agriculture department, will be shut down. The House Republican leadership has followed the Hastert rule that it normally does not bring legislation to the floor if Democratic votes are needed to pass a bill.
Stabenow told reporters Wednesday that it is too early to predict whether the bill will move as stand-alone legislation or attached to other legislation.
American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall noted that congressional agriculture leaders "made the bill a priority for this Congress, and all Americans -- farmers and consumers -- are better off for it."
"Continued access to risk-management tools, assistance in foreign market development, and conservation and environmental stewardship programs within the legislation are especially important for farmers and ranchers," Duvall said.
Duvall added, "Farmers and ranchers continue to face challenges outside of the farm bill. Every day we struggle to find the workers we need. Exports were once a backbone of U.S. agriculture, but we now face an uphill battle reclaiming our once robust market share. While the administration is reviewing the cost and effectiveness of federal regulations, overregulation remains a burden that farmers and ranchers cannot afford, especially now. We urge Congress to continue working on these issues to maintain our nation's food security and continue agriculture's significant contributions to U.S. job creation and economic growth."
National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said, "Getting a farm bill through the finish line before the end of the year is critical for the long-term viability and sustainability of family farmers and ranchers across the country."
Johnson added, "Farmers are enduring a growing financial crisis in the farm economy, and programs that support farm sustainability and diverse markets for family farmers have expired."
National Corn Growers Association President Lynn Chrisp said, "It's imperative that farmers and rural communities have a new farm bill this year."
"NCGA is grateful for today's announcement that sets the steps in motion to ensure that happens. Our grower members have been making phone calls and sending emails to Capitol Hill, urging lawmakers to reach a deal before year's end. We thank them for heeding this call and look forward to fully reviewing the conference agreement."
National Association of Wheat Growers President Jimmie Musick said, "NAWG appreciates conferees diligently working together to reach an agreement to strengthen the agriculture industry."
"This past year our growers have dealt with the impact of the trade war between U.S. and China, extreme weather conditions, and a struggling rural economy and more. Farm bill support programs provide them with some certainty during these volatile times.
"NAWG looks forward to reviewing the language within the bill."
Jerry Hagstrom can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Follow him on Twitter @hagstromreport
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