The U.S. Senate passed the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018 with a bipartisan 86-11 vote Thursday evening.
The bill uses the bones of the 2014 Farm Bill, but moves funding to keep costs even. The bill preserves crop insurance, as well as keeping the Conservation Stewardship Program and Environmental Quality Incentives Programs separate while funding both.
The bill also raises the total cap on acres for the Conservation Reserve Program by one million to a 25 million total and includes an amendment to legalize the production of industrial hemp.
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) said the legislation will bring farmers the certainty and predictability he has said they need.
“Today marks an important day for farm country. We are one step closer to providing farmers and ranchers a Farm Bill with the certainty and predictability they deserve,” Roberts said in a statement. “I thank my partner in this journey, Ranking Member Stabenow, as well as many of our Senate colleagues who offered leadership and expertise. I am proud we have a strong, budget-neutral Farm Bill with broad support.”
The bill includes an amendment led by Sen. Jerry Moran (R-Kan.) to allow advance payments through the Emergency Conservation Program for farmers and ranchers to replace fences following natural disasters. This bill also contains Sen. Moran’s proposal to more than double the amount of ECP assistance a landowner can receive when rebuilding from a disaster.
Moran and Roberts also pushed for rural broadband expansion and improvement in the bill.
The Senate’s farm bill will now go to conference with members from the Senate and House. The House bill passed earlier this month after failing in May. Members from each chamber will be taxed with merging the two versions of the bill before it goes to President Donald Trump.
A main divergence of the House and Senate versions is tougher work requirements for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program included in the House bill. While the SNAP requirements caused House Agriculture Committee Democrats to walk away from negotiations earlier this year, Rep. Roger Marshall (R-Kan.) said he believes common ground will be found in conference.
“The Farm Bill is one of the few bills that is consistently passed into law through regular order. There are always substantial differences in the House and Senate bills that are able to be blended into a final bill,” Marshall said. “While the House certainly took a more proactive position on SNAP with the House including $7 billion in additional education and training money than the Senate, the fact that neither bill cut money from the nutrition title should leave ample room for common ground.”
The current farm bill is set to expire September 30.