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House and Senate Agriculture committee leaders released summaries of proposed farm bills as they ramp up action on agricultural policy legislation, but they remain divided on food stamp benefits and on the use of conservation funds already appropriated.

The current farm bill, which expires on September 30, 2024, extended policies that were enacted by the 2018 law. The Senate suggested an extension of the current farm bill will be necessary to allow for time to reach a bipartisan compromise with the House that can be signed into law by the end of the year. The House summary says the farm bill would include historic funding in the conservation title by reallocating money provided by a 2022 clean energy law. It also would expand covered conservation practices but doesn’t elaborate.

The Senate proposal would move money into the farm bill’s conservation title but would only make it available for climate-smart programs. The Senate summary would fund the Environmental Quality Incentives, Conservation Stewardship, Agricultural Conservation Easement, and Regional Conservation Partnership programs. The House version pushes back on the notion of adopting climate sideboards in the conservation title.

Lawmakers are divided over the Thrifty Food Plan used to set Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, or food stamps. The 2018 farm bill directed the Agriculture Department to reevaluate the plan every five years based on food prices, food composition data, consumption patterns and dietary guidance. The USDA’s update in 2021 resulted in a 21 percent increase in benefits, bringing criticism from Republicans unhappy that SNAP is accounting for a larger part of the farm bill. The Congressional Budget Office’s 10-year cost projection through fiscal 2033 shows SNAP would account for $1.2 trillion out of a nearly $1.5 trillion baseline for the farm bill.

The Senate, however, would maintain the five-year reevaluation requirement. The Senate summary provided more detail on a range of programs, saying the legislation would raise the statutory reference price for commodities such as seed cotton, rice, and peanuts that have not or are not expected to benefit from an existing mechanism by 5 percent; increase the Conservation Reserve Program acreage cap to 29 million acres from 27 million acres from fiscal 2025 to fiscal 2029; and extend the $255 million in annual mandatory funding for trade promotion through fiscal 2029.

The House summary does not elaborate in detail, but says it modernizes the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) by incentivizing enrollment of marginal lands and emphasizing state partnerships and that it increases funding for MAP/FMD, the Market Access Program and Foreign Market Development Program that are part of trade promotion.



Friday, 03 May 2024