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Harvest Public Media is a reporting collaboration focused on issues of food, fuel and field. Based at KCUR in Kansas City, Harvest covers these agriculture-related topics through an expanding network of reporters and partner stations throughout the Midwest.Most Harvest Public Media stories begin with radio- regular reports are aired on member stations in the Midwest. But Harvest also explores issues through online analyses, television documentaries and features, podcasts, photography, video, blogs and social networking. They are committed to the highest journalistic standards. Click here to read their ethics standards.Harvest Public Media was launched in 2010 with the support of a grant from the Corporation for Public Broadcasting. Today, the collaboration is supported by CPB, the partner stations, and contributions from underwriters and individuals.Tri States Public Radio is an associate partner of Harvest Public Media. You can play an important role in helping Harvest Public Media and Tri States Public Radio improve our coverage of food, field and fuel issues by joining the Harvest Network.

Changes To Federal Food Assistance, Conservation Programs In First Public Farm Bill Draft

House Agriculture Committee leaders, including chairman Mike Conaway (center), a Republican from Texas, discuss their first draft of the 2018 farm bill in Washington, D.C.

Held up over disagreements over federal food stamps, the first draft of the 2018 farm bill arrived Thursday, bearing 35 changes to that program, including starting a national database of participants.

The current farm bill expires Sept. 30; in the past, Congress has had to extend their work beyond deadlines. The bill released Thursday came from the House Agriculture Committee, which is headed by Texas Republican Rep. Mike Conaway.

U.S. Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said in a statement that the draft “aligns with many of the principles USDA released” earlier in the year and encouraged that the bill pass “in a timely fashion.”

While the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) takes up about 80 percent of the farm bill’s budget, there’s a ton of other programs funded by the legislation. Here’s a breakdown of notable changes, by title (i.e. section):


  • Republicans are looking to move people off of the SNAP rolls starting first with changing work and job-training requirements. States have had the right waive those requirements if there isn’t a “sufficient number of jobs to provide employment for the individuals,” but the draft imposes tougher limits on those waivers.
  • The draft provides states more money for the states’ existing job-training programs, starting at $90 million in fiscal year 2019 and working up to $1 billion a year by 2021.
  • In an effort to monitor SNAP more closely, the draft would create a national system called the Duplicative Enrollment Database to make sure people can’t apply for assistance in multiple states. It would also research and incentivize systems that would track who is on food stamps, for how long, what the benefits are spent on and a recipient’s employment status.
  • The amount allocated for food stamps may increase, as a provision of the bill is to re-evaluate the cost of food every five years so benefit keep up with inflation.
  • The bill would also allow the amount of assets a person has to go up, allowing a car valued at up to $12,000.


  • The Conservation Stewardship Program, which currently covers about 10 million acres of land, is being rolled into the Environmental Quality Incentives Program. All farmers enrolled in CSP will still get their payments until the new farm bill is finalized. EQIP currently funds about 36,000 projects on farms ranging from cover crops to irrigation systems, and the House’s farm bill draft caps payments to a single participant at $50,000 a year.
  • Also, the acreage cap for the Conservation Reserve Program, which Harvest has described as taking “environmentally sensitive land out of production,” will rise from its current cap of 24 million acres to 30 million acres by fiscal year 2023.
  • There’s a proposed pilot program to control the feral hog population, at the cost of $100 million over a 5-year period. Politifact reports that most of the feral hogs in the U.S. live in 10 mostly southern states, including Texas and Florida.

Rural development

  • The proposed bill takes steps to address rural health issues like opioid abuse. It directs more money toward addiction services by allowing Perdue to prioritize telehealth projects and grants to create facilities aimed at prevention, treatment and recovery.
  • The U.S. Department of Agriculture will also be able to award loans and grants to “agricultural associations” that set up health insurance plans for rural residents. The Iowa Farm Bureau is planning to sell low-cost plans, though they will be sold outside of the Affordable Care Act marketplaces and lack some of the ACA coverage protections.
  • The draft does not follow through on proposals in the White House’s proposed budget from earlier this year that would have zeroed-out rural development programs, such as water facility grants and business development grants (which are awarded to small, rural businesses that often can’t find financial backing from commercial banks).

Crop insurance

  • Crop insurance was widely viewed in the 2014 farm bill as the primary safety net for farmers, and is much the same in the new draft.
  • It directs Perdue to create a competitive grant-making program for projects to teach producers about crop insurance, as well as a range of other tools, including trading options, debt-reduction strategies and diversifying production.
  • The bill directs Perdue to fund programs that target beginning farmers and ranchers, “legal immigrant farmers or ranchers that are attempting to become established producers in the United States,” and “socially disadvantaged” farmers and ranchers. But it also says attention should also be paid to long-time farmers and ranchers who are preparing to retire, as well as help new people get started or help them change operations to pursue new markets.
  • While the farm bill can modify crop insurance, the overall program is managed through a separate federal crop insurance law.


  • For the most part, funding will remain even, except for organic agriculture research, which gets a $10 million bump to $30 million annually. Animal health and disease research would receive $25 million each year, and the specialty crop and research initiative, which was boosted to $80 million in the 2014 farm bill will remain the same, including at least $25 million for emergency citrus disease research.
  • The proposed bill would repeal a nutrition education program and discontinue the renewable energy committee.
  • The Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research, a nonprofit institution that researches public-private collaborations and received $200 million in initial funding in the 2014 farm bill was not mentioned in the House committee’s draft.

Conaway said he expects to perfect the bill within next week and send it to the full House. The Senate Agriculture Committee has not yet released its draft of the farm bill.
Follow the Harvest Public Media crew on Twitter: @madelynbeck8@ggerlock@AgAmyInAmes, @estherhonig@krishusted@ehunzinger

Amy Mayer is a reporter based in Ames. She covers agriculture and is part of the Harvest Public Media collaboration. Amy worked as an independent producer for many years and also previously had stints as weekend news host and reporter at WFCR in Amherst, Massachusetts and as a reporter and host/producer of a weekly call-in health show at KUAC in Fairbanks, Alaska. Amy’s work has earned awards from SPJ, the Alaska Press Club and the Massachusetts/Rhode Island AP. Her stories have aired on NPR news programs such as Morning Edition, All Things Considered and Weekend Edition and on Only A Game, Marketplace and Living on Earth. She produced the 2011 documentary Peace Corps Voices, which aired in over 160 communities across the country and has written for The New York Times, Boston Globe, Real Simple and other print outlets. Amy served on the board of directors of the Association of Independents in Radio from 2008-2015.
Harvest Public Media's reporter at NET News, where he started as Morning Edition host in 2008. He joined Harvest Public Media in July 2012. Grant has visited coal plants, dairy farms, horse tracks and hospitals to cover a variety of stories. Before going to Nebraska, Grant studied mass communication as a grad student at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, and completed his undergrad at Buena Vista University in Storm Lake, Iowa. He grew up on a farm in southwestern Iowa where he listened to public radio in the tractor, but has taken up city life in Lincoln, Neb.
Erica Hunzinger is the editor of Harvest Public Media, based at KCUR in Kansas City, Missouri.