Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senator Joe Donnelly today called for quick action to find agreement on a final version of the 2018 Farm Bill. Last night, the Senate sent its version of the bill to a conference committee, where it will be reconciled with the version that passed the House of Representatives earlier this year. Donnelly helped the Senate pass its version in June, which received strong, bipartisan support in 86-11 vote and included a number of Donnelly-led provisions that would improve risk management, conservation, and export promotion programs; help fight opioid abuse; invest in the future of agriculture; and address food insecurity. As a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Donnelly helped craft the Senate’s bill earlier this year.
Donnelly said, “Our farmers are having to navigate significant challenges – from depressed commodity prices to chaotic trade markets and uncertain federal policies from WOTUS to the RFS. Now more than ever, farmers need conferees to quickly reconcile the differences between the Senate- and House-passed versions of this bill. I encourage conferees to follow the path we did in the Senate and put aside partisan differences to develop a bipartisan bill that will allow us to quickly provide some stability for farmers.”
Some of the Hoosier priorities and Donnelly provisions included in the Senate-passed bill:
- Fighting the Opioid Epidemic: This bill includes three Donnelly-written provisions that would combat the opioid epidemic by targeting investments from the Telemedicine, Community Facility, and Rural Health and Safety programs for substance abuse treatment, prevention, and education programs. These provisions were developed from Donnelly’s bipartisan rural opioids package introduced in 2017 with Ag Committee Chairman Roberts (R-KS), then-Senator Luther Strange (R-AL), and with Senator John Hoeven (R-ND).
- Promoting Impactful, Voluntary Conservation: The bill would ensure farmers are provided with the tools they need to be good stewards of the environment. It would eliminate potential disincentives for voluntary conservation practices like cover crops and would support soil health improvement programs. It would allow states to increase cost-sharing for the most impactful conservations practices. Donnelly heard about the importance of cover crops and conservation programs in several listening session stops, including in 2017 in Knox County and in March 2018 with conservationists and sportsmen in Montgomery County.
- Ensuring Full Planting Flexibility: The bill would retain full planting flexibility for farmers who want to plant fruits and vegetables, ensuring farmers can diversify their farms without worrying about losing access to commodity support programs in the future. This builds on a bipartisan bill Donnelly introduced with Senator Todd Young in December 2017, on Donnelly’s work in the 2014 and 2008 farm bills, and on input from his listening session at the Red Gold Tomato Farm in August 2017 in Grant County.
- Developing New Markets: As Hoosier farmers work to navigate challenging international markets, the bill would increase export opportunities for Hoosier farmers through two export promotion programs, the Foreign Market Development Program and the Market Assistance Program building on Donnelly’s bipartisan legislation with Senators Joni Ernst (R-IA), Angus King (I-ME), and Susan Collins (R-ME).
- Addressing Food Insecurity: The bill would strengthen oversight of the SNAP program and help fight food insecurity by reforming food assistance programs, while protecting access to benefits and maintaining the integrity of the programs. It would make it easier for seniors to access food assistance by reducing burdensome paperwork and increasing funding for The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP), which was based on an amendment introduced by Donnelly on the Senate floor. In November 2017, Donnelly toured the Food Finders Food Bank Inc. in Lafayette and met with representatives from statewide anti-hunger groups to bring their thoughts to the bill.
- Investing in the Future of Agriculture: The bill includes a Donnelly provision that would reauthorize and reorganize the New Era Rural Technology Program to help community colleges fund efforts to develop a workforce trained in precision agriculture management.
- Supporting Rural Communities: The bill would help rural communities attract investment and growth by improving the delivery of high-speed internet and investing in waste- and drinking-water by infrastructure to ensure water systems are providing clean and reliable water.
Through his work on the Senate Agriculture Committee, Donnelly has worked tirelessly to advocate for Hoosier farmers and rural communities. As part of the previous Farm Bill, Donnelly successfully pushed several measures important to Indiana that were signed into law in 2014. The Farm Bill is typically reauthorized every five years, and the current bill expires in September 2018. A final version must now be negotiated between the Senate and the House of Representatives, which each passed different versions of the bill.