Leaving plenty of room for interpretation and second-guessing, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue has detailed a list of principles the Trump Administration favors for the 2018 farm bill.

“These principles will be used as a roadmap — they are our way of letting Congress know what we’ve heard from the hard-working men and women of American agriculture,” Perdue said in a news release. “While we understand it’s the legislature’s job to write the farm bill, USDA will be right there providing whatever counsel Congress may request or require.”

Perdue’s list drew widespread praise from the farm community, though one critic said the administration’s list of principles could split the agriculture and anti-hunger communities during the farm bill process and don’t address the issue of support for local food initiatives.

The list includes:

  • A farm safety net that helps farmers through times of stress without distorting markets or increasing shallow loss payments; 
  • A variety of crop insurance products;
  • Strengthened accountability of export promotion programs;
  • Making sure the Dietary Guidelines for Americans rely on the “most robust” body of scientific evidence;
  • Supporting nutrition policies and programs that are “science based and data driven”;
  • Protecting the integrity of the organic seal with oversight of domestic/foreign organic production; and 
  • Providing growth opportunities for specialty crop growers while reducing regulatory burdens. 

American Farm Bureau Federation president Zippy Duvall said in a statement that the details from Perdue were positive.

“We are pleased the secretary and his team have highlighted not just the importance of risk management on the farm, but also rural development, research and development, trade, conservation and nutrition,” Duvall said.

Greg Fogel, policy director for the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, said in a statement that the group backs many of the principles put forward by Perdue, including land access, organic label integrity and strengthening investment in agricultural research and working lands conservation. 

On the other hand, Fogel said several themes were absent in Perdue’s list, citing:

  • Advancing local and regional markets;
  • Expanding opportunities for value-added agriculture; and
  • Farm-based renewable energy.

“We are also concerned by the suggestion of potentially disastrous changes to nutrition assistance programs,” Fogel said in a statement.

He said USDA seems to imply a fundamental change in food security programs that could not only challenge the agency’s anti-hunger objectives, but could also seriously risk the timely passage of a new farm bill.

“If we want an on-time farm bill that serves the needs of American farmers and families, Congress must seek to unite, not divide, the agricultural and anti-hunger coalitions,” Fogel said.

Path forward

Agriculture Secretary Perdue’s principles for the next farm bill are useful, said Dennis Nuxoll, vice president of government affairs for Western Growers.

“On the flip side, I’m very interested to see the reaction on the Hill, if any,” he said.

Former Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns, who served under President George Bush from 2000 to 2007,  gave Congress a very detailed plan for the farm bill in 2007, but lawmakers ignored some of his recommendations, Nuxxol recalled.

Hunt Shipman, a partner with Cornerstone Government Affairs, a Washington, D.C.-based public affairs firm that represents the Produce Marketing Association, said the 2018 farm bill process is in a holding pattern until the House Agriculture Committee receives budget information from the Congressional Budget Office. The delay in the appropriations process has slowed progress, he said.

Whenever the House and Senate do move on their versions of the farm bill, Nuxoll said the legislation typically passes out of committee and then is voted on by each body fairly quickly - perhaps within one to two months.


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