After months of waiting, agriculture is expected to get a first taste of the Senate version of the farm bill later this week. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) hopes to release the language by the end of the week, with a possible mark-up on June 13. It’s also possible the full Senate will vote on the bill before the July 4 recess.
After the House farm bill vote was derailed by the Freedom Caucus over damands for a vote on a conservative immigration package, Roberts says farm country shouldn’t expect major changes from the Senate. Instead look for minor tweaks and improvements that he says makes the bill stronger and immune to strong partisanship.
"This is not a time for a revolutionary farm bill." - Sen. Ag Committee Chair Pat Roberts
“This is not a time for a revolutionary farm bill,” said Roberts. “This is my eighth farm bill. So it's not my first rodeo and it's not the first rodeo of the distinguished ranking member Senator (Debbie) Stabenow, as well, and we worked together in the past to produce a bipartisan bill and that's what we're trying to do.”
He says it’s that bipartisanship that’s key to getting the number of votes needed to pass the hurdles of Washington. He thinks the urgency behind the economic hardship in agriculture should also help push the bill across the aisle, including Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) throwing her support behind it in order to get the needed 60 votes.
“Our situation is so dire and with the trade policy having a question mark after it, farmers want predictability not uncertainty,” Roberts told U.S. Farm Report. “I've got to have 60 votes. We have to have 60 votes. All of us in agriculture have to have 60 votes in the Senate. You're not going to do that unless you reach across the aisle and you make it a bipartisan bill.”
Unlike the House version of the farm bill, Roberts made it clear that the Senate doesn’t support work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition and Assistance Program (SNAP), as he says the states already have the authority to make those changes.
“The law - right now - is a state can have work requirements,” said Roberts. “Kansas has a work requirement, and so I don't think we're going to change that. I think we're going to have existing law, we'll make some efficiencies.”
He told U.S. Farm Report that some of those efficiencies can be to protect the program by ensuring the integrity of the program. He says that includes possible changes to bonus payments and other work-arounds.
“We're going to have to clean up that bonus program and to get that done, I think we can say here is a SNAP program that everybody can agree would be the program that we can pass,” he said.
He says crop insurance is the one item that he continues to hear about from farmers. He says the Senate version will include changes to the program, but he thinks the program will make the crop insurance portion of the bill stronger in the end.
“You say anything about crop insurance you're talking about land values coming down, so that's the number one thing that we'll protect in the farm bill,” - Sen. Pat Roberts
“We'll protect crop insurance,” said Roberts. “We are trying to make some corrections in it and a more accurate way of determining crop insurance, but we are not going to cut crop insurance.”
Roberts says this isn’t the year to make drastic changes to the crop insurance program, as agriculture can’t afford that right now.
“You say anything about crop insurance you're talking about land values coming down, so that's the number one thing that we'll protect in the farm bill,” said Roberts.
The Senator did point out with current commodity prices, he thinks more farmers will switch to Price Loss Coverage (PLC) under the 2018 farm bill. He says it’s certainty and predictability those in agriculture need right now; and it’s that certainty he wants agriculture to know is being worked on in Washington.
“I want farmers to know that we're going to get them a good farm bill,” said Roberts. “I want to them to know they can go to their banker or their lender - whoever it is - and sit down with that individual and say ‘hey, I'm going to be all right next year. Then I want to do that thing that they do best, whether you're a farmer, a rancher or a grower or people up and down Main Street, we're going to be fine. We're going to compete and we're going to get this trade policy worked out.”