Mick Henderson, board chairman for the Renewable Fuels Association and general manager of a Kentucky ethanol plant, was among the large group of people tied to farm groups and related industries who attended the White House farm bill signing ceremony Thursday.
President Donald Trump signed the 2018 farm bill into law, finishing off more than a year of work by Congress that leaders in farm organizations say will provide some policy certainty to farmers who remain stuck in a prolonged downturn fanned by trade disruptions.
Leading into Friday, the farm bill is now signed, but USDA is staring at a government shutdown Friday at midnight because of the dispute between Congress and the president over funding a border wall. The president spent much of Friday morning tweeting about the wall and Congress.
The farm bill is not a major piece of legislation for the biofuels industry in general. Henderson pointed out he is no expert on the bill, though there are some provisions such as research and development into new biofuels that could eventually benefit the industry. Perhaps most hopeful were the bipartisan votes on the legislation and getting the president to sign the bill.
“I don’t know if it gives you all of the certainty you need as a farmer to plant seed this spring, but it’s a start,” Henderson said. “It may be a sign of things to come. That may be wishful thinking with the polarization of politics in Washington, but I tell you, there were Democrats and Republicans standing up there shoulder to shoulder, and that’s a good sign.”
Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union, said his members are relieved to know the farm bill is done “heading into an uncertain future for American agriculture.” Johnson added that the bill provides some improvements from the 2014 farm bill, but Johnson also indicated more support may be needed for farmers going forward.
“We’re entering a sixth year of devastatingly low farm prices, leading to substantial financial stress for farm families and forcing many out of business,” Johnson said. “This pain is exacerbated by the administration’s mishandling of international trade and biofuel policies, which are further depressing farm prices. As we head into 2019, Farmers Union will continue to push for a stronger farm safety net that reflects the realities of the current farm economy, and its implications for the viability of family farm agriculture in the United States.”
Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation, who President Trump acknowledged during his signing ceremony, said the bill, “means risk management tools, foreign market development and environmental stewardship programs continue to be available, and on terms that reflect a much tougher farm economy than the one we faced when the last farm bill became law.”
Duvall added: “The farm bill helps to ensure the food security and economic security of our nation. Directly or indirectly, it benefits everyone in towns large and small.”
The American Soybean Association pointed to provisions to maintain the Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC) programs, as well as maintaining a strong crop insurance program.
“This is a success for agriculture to have this legislation passed before the end of the year,” said David Stephens, president of ASA and a Kentucky farmer. “We appreciate the level of assurance the bill provides and will now be able to better focus on working with the administration and Congress on other issues affecting the competitiveness and profitability of U.S. beans.”
The farm bill allows farmers to switch commodity programs in 2019, and in 2021, farmers will be allowed annually to switch back and forth between ARC and PLC. Along with that, the new law creates a formula that would allow reference prices to move upward as much as 15%. Under the right conditions, that could bump up the corn PLC price to $4.26, while the soybean reference price would move to $9.66. Wheat would go to $6.33.
The crop insurance industry noted Congress pushed back on plans to cut back on insurance, as the National Crop Insurance Services stated, lawmakers heeded farmers’ advice to “do no harm to crop insurance.”
American Farmland Trust highlighted the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program got $2 billion over 10 years to pay landowners for keeping their land in agriculture.
Lastly, companies in the hemp industry praised the signing of a bill that will establish hemp as an agricultural crop nationally and removes hemp from the Controlled Substances Act. The Hemp Industries Association said that will remove some of the risk hemp farmers were facing, especially from lending institutions reluctant to finance the industry. States must submit plans to USDA as required by the farm bill. Kentucky’s Department of Agriculture stated Thursday it had already sent its plan to USDA.
“Kentucky’s regulatory framework perfectly aligns with the requirements spelled out in the farm bill,” said Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles. “Hemp growers, processors and manufacturers deserve swift action so they can proceed with confidence. Kentucky has led the charge on industrial hemp with bipartisan support for the past five years. Now we are eager to take the next step toward solidifying Kentucky’s position as the epicenter of industrial hemp production and processing in the United States.”
Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com
Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN