The Farm Bill provides our hardworking agriculture producers with essential tools and the safety net they need to grow the food and fiber our country needs and relies upon. It also includes several other policies that support rural America and our rural economies.
I authored an amendment that was adopted on the House floor to establish “Cattle and Carcass Grading Correlation and Training Centers” to help ensure that federal beef graders are interpreting and applying the USDA standards in the same way so that cattle and carcasses across the country are graded uniformly.
The accuracy of grading cattle is dependent on the grader’s knowledge of animal composition, making the process subjective. It is important to ensure that producers are receiving a fair price and that consumers are paying a fair price for the quality of beef.
We have an ever-growing reliance on technology, and some of our rural areas have been left behind. As with rural electrification in the 1930s, much of rural America needs broadband as much as they need roads and bridges to keep production moving and the world fed. The Farm Bill supports expanding broadband access into rural areas to keep them on the same competitive level as the rest of our country.
The Farm Bill authorizes more than $500 million a year for U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) broadband infrastructure loans and grants to connect the hardest to reach rural communities to the global economy. This builds on the $600 million that was provided in the fiscal year 2018 funding bill for the USDA to conduct a new broadband loan and grant pilot program. With the help of colleagues and some good ideas from Judge Clark in Wise County, I was able to help develop two provisions within the Farm Bill to address rural broadband issues.
The first allows the USDA to finance “middle-mile” infrastructure projects, which are necessary to connect rural areas to the backbone of the Internet.
The second directs the USDA to study potential opportunities to provide technical assistance and predevelopment planning activities to help rural counties and communities assess current and future broadband needs.
The largest portion of the Farm Bill goes to nutrition programs that assist those who are truly in need while providing critical training and opportunities to gain employment and/or better paying jobs. The bill also includes important conservation measures, trade support, and rural development initiatives that support critical rural infrastructure such as public water systems.
You can find some of the highlights of this year's Farm Bill below:
Safety Net: Maintains and strengthens the Price Loss Coverage (PLC) and Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) programs by allowing the PLC reference prices to adjust when markets improve and by having ARC use actual yields collected by the Risk Management Agency.
Dairy: The Margin Protection Program is renamed the Dairy Risk Management (DRM) program, and the first 5 million pounds of milk production on a dairy is made eligible for higher coverage levels at lower premiums. Milk production not covered under DRM is made fully eligible for a comparable crop insurance policy.
Disaster Assistance: Livestock disaster programs remain in place with modest adjustments and $100 million is provided toward a pilot program to address destructive and invasive feral swine.
Animal Disease: Supports critical animal health infrastructure with $450 million to enhance USDA’s ability to identify, diagnose, and respond to a potential animal disease outbreak through the creation of a new National Animal Disease Preparedness and Response Program and a new U.S.-only vaccine bank with priority for stockpiling Foot-and-Mouth Disease (FMD) vaccine.
Conservation: Increases funding for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to $3 billion per while incorporating the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP). Increases Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) acreage to 29 million acres.
Nutrition: Maintains and strengthens nutrition programs and provides that work capable adults (ages 18-59) work or participate in work training for 20 hours per week. Exempted populations include seniors, those who are disabled, those caring for children under six, or those who are pregnant. These exempted groups represent nearly 2/3 of all program participants.
Trade: Combines the Market Access Program (MAP), the Foreign Market Development (FMD) Program, the Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops (TASC) Program, and the Emerging Markets Program (EMP) into the newly created International Market Development Program.
Critical Infrastructure: Gives rural communities increased access to credit to finance critical infrastructure, such as essential community facilities and public water systems.