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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. Learn more here.

Final Farm Bill Shows Hemp's In, Food-Aid Work Requirements Are Out

Grant Gerlock
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Harvest Public Media

Updated at 3 p.m. Dec. 20 with Trump signing legislation — The long-awaited final version of the farm bill was unveiled Monday night, and it hews somewhat closely to the previous piece of massive legislation — aside from legalizing hemp on a national level. 

The farm bill has been in conference committee for months, with the sticking points being stricter work requirements for federal food aid and a last-minute request from the White House to change forestry rules in the wake of the deadly wildfires in California. Congress blew past the Sept. 30 expiration date of the last farm bill and didn’t pass a stopgap measure.

The overall cost is expected to be $867 billion over 10 years, and the Congressional Budget Office said it would "increase direct spending by $1.8 billion and revenues by $35 million" over a five-year period starting in 2019.

Senate Agriculture Committee leader Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican, told Harvest Public Media that the bill will "enable producers certainty and predictability and for them to go to their lender and say 'We're good' for the next five years." Collin Peterson, the ranking Democrat on the House Ag Committee, said in a statement that it invests in things like "local and organic food production, bioenergy, and access to new markets."

Here’s a breakdown of the main components of the bill, which President Donald Trump signed before the 2018 congressisonal session ended. 

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)

The federal food aid program for nearly 40 million Americans was the main thing holding up the final round of negotiations on the farm bill.

The compromise bill is closer to the Senate’s version than the House’s version, which would have required 3.5 million more adults to maintain eligibility for SNAP by either working 20 hours per week or attending job training.

Currently, only so-called able-bodied adults without dependents (ABAWDs) from 18 to 49 years old fall under those work requirements. Harvest reported earlier this year that the House's proposal would have upped the age to 59 years old and added parents of children over 6 years old.

Republicans said extending work requirements would push more people into the job market, and the changes had Trump's support. But it appeared to be a political necessity to remove them from the farm bill, as Senate Democrats had made it clear they would block the bill if the work requirements were included.

But the SNAP program didn’t avoid any changes. Once the farm bill is passed:

  • It’ll create a “National Accuracy Clearinghouse” database to prevent people from signing up for SNAP in multiple states at the same time.
  • There'll be more money for workforce development programs for SNAP recipients.
  • States will be required to beef up case management in work programs.
  • The USDA will be directed to expand incentives to spend SNAP benefits on nutritious foods.


Forestry

California’s been rocked by three large fires recently, including its deadliest and its largest judged by the burned area. After touring the region, Trump said there’d be about $500 million in the farm bill for “management and maintenance.”

The White House also threw its support behind a proposal in the House version of the bill that would allow forest-thinning projects up to 6,000 acres to be exempted from the usual public input and environmental review.

“Heretofore, we've been really litigated into paralysis about being able to do the common-sense thinning and underbrush cleaning that needs to happen to prevent these amazing, awesome forest fires,” Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue told NPR’s Morning Edition on Nov. 21.

But the idea was opposed by Senate Democrats on the conference committee and environmental groups, such as the Sierra Club, arguing that the exemptions favored the timber industry at the expense of wildlife and endangered species.

The compromise farm bill instead allows forest thinning and salvage projects up to 3,000 acres to proceed without public review in cases of disease and infestation. Projects up to 4,500 acres aimed at clearing vegetation to maintain mule deer and sage grouse habitat also are exempted from public review rules.

Conservation

The bill increased the amount of land the government is willing to pay farmers to set aside for conservation, but the House and Senate did disagree on other parts of the conservation section — how to deal with fast-increasing costs of conservation programs that are supposed to spur environmentally friendly farming practices.

Once the farm bill is passed:

  • There’ll be an increase in the amount of land eligible for the Conservation Reserve Program, which pays farmers for taking environmentally sensitive farmland out of production. The acreage cap would climb from 24 million acres to about 27 million acres between 2019 and 2023. As of July 2018, 22.64 million acres were enrolled in the program.
  • The Conservation Stewardship Program, which pays farmers to use conservation-minded practices like cover crops and field rotation, was not fully eliminated, but its funding was cut. 
  • At the same time, there will be increasing payments to the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), which incentivizes similar practices through a different method. That would start at $1.75 billion in 2019, increasing to $2.025 billion by 2023.
  • A pilot program will try to help eradicate feral hogs. That is, to help local efforts, the government will match up to 75 percent of the cost of capture and eradication where the swine are causing harm to agriculture, nature or people. As much as $75 million can be use for the program over the next five years.


Hemp

A hemp plant.
Credit Esther Honig / Harvest Public Media file photo
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Harvest Public Media file photo
A hemp plant.

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, made it clear from the get-go: It was time to legalize hemp. His wish didn’t see much pushback, as at least 35 states already allow the cultivation of hemp.

Legalizing hemp growing means the crop would be removed the list of controlled substances, where currently it’s lumped in alongside drugs like heroin.

Unlike its close cousin, marijuana, hemp contains very little THC — and it has lots of industrial applications, from textiles to construction materials and livestock feed. It’s also made into CBD oil, or cannabidiol: a tincture that’s become increasingly popular for medicinal use despite a debate over its effectiveness. The growing CBD industry is estimated to be worth $22 billion by 2022.

Once the farm bill is passed:

Hemp will be removed from the list of controlled substances, and defined as all of the plant plus the seeds and extracts, as long as they contain no more than 0.3 percent THC (or Delta-9 tetrahydrocannabinol) on a dry-weight basis.

  • States will have control over regulating hemp cultivation.

  • Hemp growers in states that currently permit its cultivation, thanks to the 2014 farm bill, will be able to transport the product over state lines.

  • Growers will have access to federal crop insurance, but are excluded from other federal safety-net programs because hemp will not be considered a widely produced and traded commodity like corn or soybeans.
  • Crop insurance

    Certain crop insurance premiums for farmers will still be subsidized, as well as some of the expenses incurred by private companies that underwrite the policies. The House and Senate versions of the crop insurance title were very similar, so it didn’t generate big controversies.

    Once the farm bill is passed:

    • Crop insurance will remain the primary safety net for most farmers, as established in the 2014 farm bill.
    • The Price Loss Coverage and Agriculture Risk Coverage programs remain substantially the same but signing up for them has changed. Under the 2014 bill, farmers had to choose one program and commit to it for the life of the farm bill. Now, they will be able to select a program each year.
    • Subsidies will be available to extended family members: first cousins, nieces and nephews. And stricter rules around who is eligible to receive farm program payments, which were heralded by Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley, did not make it in. He said Tuesday morning that he plans to vote against the bill, like he did in 2014, because of that. 


    It’s also important to note that while the farm bill can modify crop insurance, the overall program is managed through a separate federal law.

    This story has been corrected to show that the Conservation Stewardship Program was not cut, but had much of its funding stripped. 

    For more information about what's in the farm bill, listen to NET Nebraska's podcast On the Table.

    Follow Grant on Twitter: @ggerlock. Follow Esther on Twitter: @estherhonig. Follow Amy on Twitter: @agamyinames. Follow Madelyn on Twitter: @madelynbeck8. Follow Jonathan on Twitter: @JonathanAhl.

    Copyright 2018 Harvest Public Media

    Jonathan Ahl joined Iowa Public Radio as News Director in July 2008. He leads the news and talk show teams in field reporting, feature reporting, audio documentaries, and talk show content. With more than 17 years in public media, Jonathan is a nationally award-winning reporter that has worked at public radio stations in Macomb, Springfield and Peoria, IL. He served WCBU-FM in Peoria as news director before coming to Iowa. He also served as a part-time instructor at Bradley University teaching journalism and writing courses. Jonathan is currently serving a second term as president of PRNDI ââ
    Grant Gerlock
    Grant Gerlock is 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.
    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.
    Esther Honig
    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.
    Madelyn Beck
    Madelyn Beck is a regional Illinois reporter, based in Galesburg. On top of her work for Harvest Public Media, she also contributes to WVIK, Tri-States Public Radio and the Illinois Newsroom collaborative. Beck is from a small cow ranch in Manhattan, Montana. Her previous work was mostly based in the western U.S., but she has covered agriculture, environment and health issues from Alaska to Washington, D.C. Before joining Harvest and the Illinois Newsroom, she was as an energy reporter based in Wyoming for the public radio collaborative Inside Energy. Other publications include the Idaho Mountain Express, E&E News/EnergyWire, KRBD Rainbird Radio, the Montana Broadcasters Association, Montana Public Radio and the Tioga Tribune.
    Jonathan Ahl
    Jonathan Ahl reports from Missouri for Harvest Public Media. He also is the Rolla Reporter for St. Louis Public Radio. Before coming to St. Louis Public Radio in November of 2018, Jonathan was the General Manager for Tri States Public Radio in Macomb, Illinois. He previously was the News Director at Iowa Public Radio and before that at WCBU in Peoria, Illinois. Jonathan has also held reporting positions in central Illinois for public radio stations. Jonathan is originally from the Chicago area. He has a B.A. in Music Theory and Composition from Western Illinois University and an M.A. in Public Affairs Reporting from the University of Illinois at Springfield. He is an avid long distance runner, semi-professional saxophonist and die-hard Chicago Cubs fan.