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Agriculture


The importance of agriculture to Wisconsin cannot be overstated.  The industry provides 11.9 percent of the state’s employment and generates nearly $90 billion to the economy annually.  In 2013, the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) reported that more than 99 percent of the nearly 77,000 farms statewide are family-owned.  Further, Wisconsin has justifiably been nicknamed “America’s Dairyland,” as the second-largest producer of dairy in the country.  Milk, corn, fruits and vegetables, cattle, and soybeans are just a few of the products that come from the more than 15 million acres of farmland in Wisconsin. 

The 2018 Farm Bill

With the Agricultural Act of 2014, popularly known as the 2014 Farm Bill, set to expire at the end of Fiscal Year (FY) 2018, the House Agriculture Committee has been actively engaged in the process of seeking feedback, input, and insight prior to reauthorization.  On April 13, 2018, Chairman Conaway introduced H.R. 2, the Agriculture and Nutrition Act.  This legislation – known as the 2018 Farm Bill – will address the economic changes facing the nation’s farmers and ranchers and make historic investments in opportunities for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients.  (As you may know, SNAP is a USDA program that partners with state agencies, nutrition educators, and neighborhood organizations to provide eligible low-income families with economic benefits.)

The 2018 Farm Bill remains faithful to the American taxpayer and consumer.  This legislation places a heavy emphasis on farm policy, nutrition, trade, conservation, and crop insurance while ensuring consumers continue to enjoy the safest, most abundant, most affordable food supply in the world.  With respect to farm policy, the bill reauthorizes and strengthens the Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC) options through 2023, providing a degree of certainty that would have been impossible under an extension of the 2014 Farm Bill. Below you will find a few additional details on aspects of the 2018 Farm Bill. 

  • Support for dairy farmers. I have heard the voices of Wisconsin dairy farmers who have been hurting as a result of the Margin Protection Program, which has unfortunately served as an inadequate safety net.  The 2018 Farm Bill will maintain and strengthen dairy policy in several ways.  Under the newly-named Dairy Risk Management Program (formerly referred to as the Margin Protection Program), the first 5 million pounds of milk production on a dairy farm are eligible for higher coverage levels at lower premiums.  The 2018 Farm Bill also adjusts premium levels – instead of electing coverage levels and percentage of coverage annually, producers are required to make elections that are binding through 2023.  This change would also allow a dairy operation to participate in both the Dairy Risk Management Program and Livestock Gross Margin for Dairy.

  •  Improvements to nutrition, trade, and conservation.  H.R. 2 makes numerous improvements to SNAP, with the majority of these changes pertaining to workforce development and eligibility requirements.  Too many Americans at poverty-level are trapped in a cycle, and our federal benefits framework is not doing enough to incentivize work.  As of July 2018, we have at least one job for every American in search of one, and yet, our labor participation rate remains relatively low.  This is why the 2018 Farm Bill creates a streamlined, simplified work requirement that includes meaningful investments in workforce training.  To shift the anti-poverty conversation from one focused on benefits to one focused on helping someone climb up the economic ladder, the bill requires and funds sufficient Employment and Training (E&T) slots and guarantees access to all non-exempt SNAP participants who are subject to the work requirement.  This legislation also remedies the current general work requirement, which is unenforceable and vague, by requiring 20 hours of participation per week in a combination of work, a work program, or participation in SNAP E&T.  This is then paired with funding for states to provide improved and constructive options to move participants toward improved wages, high-quality employment, and independence from government aid.  States will have a two-year transition period to achieve these goals.  The 2018 Farm Bill also maintains and strengthens a number of trade promotion initiatives designed to build upon our $140 billion in annual agriculture exports to combat the escalating uses of illegal trade actions by foreign countries.  

  • Minor modifications to crop insurance.  Crop insurance is vital to farmers in recovering from natural disasters and managing risk, which is why the 2018 Farm Bill protects crop insurance.  A few improvements are also made – the bill encourages private sector innovation in developing new policies to meet unique risks and ensures farmers and ranchers who suffer from natural disasters are not penalized through double deductibles due to artificially low insurable yields – but for the most part, H.R. 2 does not strive to “fix” that which is not broken.

On June 21, 2018, the House passed H.R. 2 by a vote of 213 to 211.  On June 28, 2018, the Senate passed an amended version of the 2018 Farm Bill by a vote of 86 to 11.  Members of the House and Senate are currently working to resolve differences between the two versions of this bill.  

With all of the momentum in our economy, the 2018 Farm Bill represents a critical chance to build a sturdier ladder of opportunity in America: it will close the skills gap, better equip our workforce, and support much-needed development in rural economies.  I commend Chairman Conaway and the House Agriculture Committee for working tirelessly to put together a bill to help people move out of poverty and into lives of opportunity.  Should you be interested in further information about the 2018 Farm Bill, I encourage you visit the House Agriculture Committee website: https://agriculture.house.gov/farmbill/

Immigration

You may be interested in an update regarding H.R. 4092, the Agricultural Guestworker (AG) Act of 2017.  On October 2, 2017, House Judiciary Committee Chairman Bob Goodlatte unveiled the text of the AG Act of 2017, a bill to create a new, workable agricultural guestworker program for America’s ranchers and farmers that would replace the outdated and broken H-2A program.  According to the Judiciary Committee, the H-2A program is widely known to be expensive, time-consuming, and flawed.  The program forces employers to comply with a lengthy labor certification process that is plagued with red tape and often puts them at a competitive disadvantage in the marketplace.  The AG Act of 2017 would create a new H-2C guestworker program designed to meet the diverse needs of the agriculture industry by covering year-round employers like dairy farms, aquaculture operations, and food processors.  On October 25, 2017, the House Judiciary Committee ordered H.R. 4092 to be considered by the full House of Representatives, which is the next step in the legislative process. 

Conclusion

Agriculture is a cornerstone of both Wisconsin’s culture and economy.  As I continue to work with my colleagues on the important issues facing the 115th Congress, I will ensure farmers are in a competitive international position, while empowering Americans to get back into the workforce, find a career path, and fulfill their true potential.

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