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Federal Farm Bill Effects in Ohio BY: hailie Cassady

“Any country that is unable to feed, shelter or clothe itself ends up in massive turmoil,” said John Torres, director of government affairs for Ohio Corn and Wheat Growers Association.

With a steady decline in commodity prices and increasing input costs, legislators must carefully revise the farm bill every five years to smooth out the risk and add predictability to the farming industry to give a sense of security to farmers.

Though the price tag is typically the frightening factor for the farm bill, there is generally overwhelming bipartisan support from Congress and the House of Representatives.

The $87 billion Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018 passed legislation on Dec. 11, 2018 and was signed by President Trump on Dec. 13.

In the 1920s and 1930s, farmers were suffering through decreasing crop prices after World War I, a massive drought crippling the center of the country and the Great Depression setting in.

The Farm Bill, which originated as a part of The New Deal, a series of programs and projects instituted during the Great Depression, was created in hopes of rebuilding pride across America.

This bill was passed in 1933 and included a program to raise prices in the agricultural industry by compensating farmers to limit their production of commodities. After realizing the success that came from the bill, congress elected to establish the program permanently with a renewal every five years.

Although the economy has become steadier and Congress made great changes to the federal finance system to ensure that our economy will not end up in another Great Depression, the government still realizes the value of America’s farmers and must work to provide them with some predictability when commodity prices are plunging.

After several years of revisions and renewals, the farm bill now consists of 12 titles that are prominent in the industry.

The first title, representing why the farm bill originated, focuses on commodities. Commodities are defined as a raw material or primary agricultural product that can be bought and sold. As a staple of the legislation, this title works to incentivize the production of crops that are essential to society and the economy.

Crop Programs for Predictability

In the 2014 farm bill, two programs were authorized to assist farmers working with decreasing commodity prices. Farmers have the option to enroll their crops into one of these programs through their local Farm Service Agency.

Due to the success of the programs in the previous bill, the 2018 farm bill will reintegrate these programs and allow farmers to enroll their crops from one program to the other more often to benefit them.

Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) is a program that provides revenue loss coverage to farmers at the county level. Price Loss Coverage (PLC) is a program that kicks in when the effective price of a covered commodity is less than the reference price for that commodity.

By offering those programs, the government is able to offer farmers a decreased risk in their livelihood to make their job less ambiguous.

According to Torres, lobbyists and lawmakers worked together to keep the overall structure for the new farm bill. He explained there weren’t a lot of major changes necessary -- just some fine-tuning.

“The 2018 farm bill was meant to be evolutionary not revolutionary,” Torres said.

Nutritional Assistance

Along with assisting farmers, the New Deal offered programs aiming to help Americans with nutrition assistance, commonly known as food stamps. The food stamp program, implemented in 1939, helped 20 million Americans over four years and cost the government $262 million. Fast-forward a few years and the economy was successful enough to end the nutrition assistance in 1943.

Twenty-years later, President John F. Kennedy launched a pilot program to experiment with the feasibility of food stamps. The 1964 Food Stamp Act was made permanent by Congress and President Johnson.

In 1977, the food stamp program and farm aid were combined as the Food and Agriculture Act and since then, the two have always been discussed in tandem. Today, the nutrition assistance program makes up 80 percent of the farm bill.

Millions of Americans affected by the 2018 Farm Bill have never set foot on a farm. As of 2018, more than 40 million Americans receive an average of $127 per month in nutritional assistance through Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), according to USDA.

The original version of the 2018 farm bill, drafted by the House, featured new requirements for SNAP, formerly known as food stamps. Those requirements included able-bodied adults between 18 and 59 with no young children, being required to work at least 20 hours per week or pursue job or educational training opportunities in order to receive food stamps. This version of the farm bill was consistent with the 1996 welfare reform law signed by President Bill Clinton.

“Work requirements were removed from the final version of the 2018 bill as passed by Congress in December,” said Rep. Jim Jordan, a Republican representing Ohio’s 4th District. “In fact, the final bill contained no meaningful food stamp reforms at all.”

“In recent farm bills, spending on the food stamp program has grown at an unsustainable rate, increasing by 283 percent since 2001,” said Jordan.

New Hemp Legislation

Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) strongly supports the hemp legislation that was integrated into the final version of the farm bill. Hemp, which is defined as the cannabis plant, has one key difference from the cannabis plant that produces marijuana. Hemp cannot contain more than 0.3 percent of THC, the substance associated with getting a person high.

Hemp is legal in the United States with some stringent restrictions, but the 2018 farm bill is more expansive on cultivation and allows hemp-derived products to be moved across state lines for commercial or other reasons. Each state can dictate whether or not the plant will be legal to grow or not.

“The onset of hemp as a potential cash crop in Ohio provides new and interesting opportunities for farmers here,” Torres explained. “Any time that we can diversify our production, we mitigate risk.”

Although it is uncertain how Ohio will implement laws surrounding hemp, the Ohio Corn and Wheat Growers Association is excited about the new federal legislation.

“For me personally, as a full spectrum hemp consumer and distributor, the Drug Enforcement Agency no longer has any claim to interfere with the interstate commerce of hemp products,” said Angie Martin-Lotz, independent Zilis consultant. “This is exciting because the cannabidiol products that I use regularly will likely become more affordable and easier to get ahold of.”

The 2018 Farm Bill had minor changes compared to previous versions. All in all, there is excitement for an opportunity to grow a new agricultural commodity. Depending on state legislation, farmers could potentially begin growing hemp on their land within the next two years. Mitigating risk across more commodity types can help farmers work against decreasing commodity prices.

Created By
Hailie Cassady
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