Policy Update: House Agriculture Committee Approves Farm Bill

On April 18, 2018, the House Agriculture Committee approved H.R. 2, the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 (Farm Bill).  As expected, the markup was extremely partisan in nature with Democratic Members strongly opposing the proposed changes to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and noting the lack of transparency.  Ranking Member Collin Peterson (D-MN) said this is a flawed bill and no Democrat voted for the legislation.  Chairman Mike Conaway (R-TX) will attempt to bring the bill to the House floor soon.  However, given the lack of Democratic support, passage will likely depend on support from Republican conservatives in the Freedom Caucus—which is uncertain at this time.

After the introduction of the House bill last week, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) released a joint statement stating, “We’re working together as quickly as possible to produce a bipartisan bill that can pass the Senate and be enacted into law.”  At this time, there is no clear timeline for when the Senate will introduce its legislation.  Should the House and Senate not reach an agreement by September 30, 2018, an extension of the current Farm Bill will likely be passed with work continuing in the new Congress next year.

The majority of the Committee’s five-hour markup was spent on the Nutrition Title and the proposed changes to SNAP.  Instead of offering amendments, Democrats repeatedly expressed their frustration with the process and their concerns with the new work and eligibility requirements for SNAP recipients.  Most of the amendments were offered in a package that was approved by the Committee.  A Committee document with summaries of all amendments offered can be found at: https://www.agri-pulse.com/ext/resources/pdfs/Farm_Bill_En_Bloc.pdf.

Amendment summaries from the Committee document of most interests to the research community follow below:

  • Nutrient Recovery Systems, offered by Rep. Mike Bost (R-IL): “Modify the Conservation Innovation Grants trial provision to include nutrient recovery systems in the definition of ‘new and innovative conservation approaches’. These systems can be used to separate nutrient particles like nitrogen and phosphorus from other substances.”
  • Promote trade and innovation-friendly policies, offered by Rep. Neal Dunn (R-FL): “Updates USDA’s authority to promote trade and innovation-friendly policies (i.e. removing nontariff barriers to US exports) globally for new agricultural production technologies. The amendment will support global acceptable [sic] of US crops and predictable science-based regulations.”
  • Algae agriculture research program, offered by Rep. Neal Dunn (R-FL): “To include algae agriculture research program under the High Priority Research and Extension Initiatives section.”
  • Increase awareness regarding technology and food, offered by Rep. Neal Dunn (R-FL): “Carry out a national science-based education campaign to increase public awareness regarding the use of technology in food and agriculture production.”
  • Gene editing and precision plant breeding, offered by Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL): “To provide Congress with a report on plans for improving the Federal government’s policies and procedures with respect to gene editing and other precision breeding methods. The intent is to foster plant breeding innovation, which is paramount to the future of agricultural sustainability and our quality of life and economic well-being, while also recognizing the longstanding safety record associated with plant breeding and plant breeders’ standards of practice in the U.S.”
  • Grant funding from National Food Safety Training, offered by Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL): “Removes a limitation on grant funding from the National Food Safety Training, Education, Extension, Outreach, and Technical Assistance Program that would prohibit entities that have previously received 3 years of funding from this program from competing for new grant funding.”
  • National List of approved and prohibited substances for organic farming, petition, offered by Rep. Rodney Davis (R-IL): “The attached amendment would strike language that creates an alternate process for petitioning substances to be added to the National List and replaces it with language that protects the role of the National Organic Standards Board in reviewing and establishing the National List.” (Note: this is the correct description from the Committee, the description included in the linked Committee document is wrong.)
  • Removing exclusion of HSACU, offered by Rep. Jodey Arrington (R-TX): “Amends the definition of a Non-land Grant College of Agriculture (NLGCA) institution to remove the exclusion for Hispanic Serving Agricultural Colleges and Universities (HSACU) and McIntire-Stennis institutions.”
  • Gene-edited animals offered and withdrew by Rep. Ted Yoho (R-FL): “To provide Congress with a report on potential authorities within USDA for regulation of gene-edited animals.”

While not an exhaustive list, highlights from the Research Title in H.R. 2 include:

  • Would reauthorize the Agriculture and Food Research Initiative (AFRI) at $700 million per year, the current authorization level, through fiscal year (FY) 2023.
  • Would make the following additions to AFRI priority areas: soil health, automation and mechanization for labor intensive tasks in the production and distribution of crops, bridges to farm entry for young, beginning, socially disadvantaged, veteran, and immigrant farmers and ranchers.
  • Would remove the AFRI matching funds requirement for non-land grant institutions.
  • Does not provide reauthorization of mandatory funding for the Foundation for Food and Agriculture Research (FFAR), which was created in the 2014 Farm Bill.
  • Would increase indirect costs for agriculture research, extension and education from 22 percent to 30 percent – applied to both the initial grant award and any subgrant.
  • Would authorize $5 million in discretionary funding for competitive research equipment grants through FY 2023 (with a maximum award amount of $500,000) for any college, university or state cooperative institution (note this program was not included in the 2014 Farm Bill but has previously been authorized).
  • Would authorize an annual discretionary funding increase of $30 million for grants and cooperative agreements for biosecurity planning and response and coordinate tactical sciences activities at the National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA).
  • Would authorize the Genome to Phenome Initiative at $30 million per year in discretionary funding through FY 2023.
  • Would repeal the nutrition education programs (FNET and SNAP-ED) and consolidate/streamline these programs to the Nutrition Title (4) sec 4033:
    • It would authorize $475 million in mandatory funding and $65 million in discretionary funding.
    • NIFA would implement the program in collaboration with the Food and Nutrition Service (FNS).
    • 1862s and 1890s are authorized as the eligible institutions for delivery.
  • Would fully fund the Specialty Crops Research Initiative through FY 2023.
  • Would increase mandatory funding for the Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative to $30 million per year through FY 2023.

Source and Additional Information:



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