The Senate passed its version of the 2018 Farm Bill on June 28 with a bipartisan vote of 86-11. The $867 billion bill does not include the controversial work requirements for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) recipients that were included in the House version of the bill. It also restates a prohibition of interchange and processing fees on food retailers.
Industry reactions to the bill have been largely positive.
“Food Marketing Institute would like to thank Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS), Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), and their respective staff for their collective commitment to the grocery industry. Their support ensured our members and customers were protected in the bill from unfair predatory fees charged by state-contracted EBT processors,” said Hannah Walker, FMI senior director of technology and nutrition policy, in response to the bill’s passage.
“FMI is extremely pleased that the Senate voted with strong bipartisan support to pass its Farm Bill,” Walker continued. “On behalf of our members, we look forward to working with both the House and Senate as the two bills head to conference. We remain committed to making sure the final legislation maintains the integrity of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and drives innovation and efficiency that will make the program run even better for our members’ customers in the future.”
The National Grocers Association (NGA), the national trade association representing the independent supermarket industry, released a statement from Greg Ferrara, EVP of advocacy, public relations and member services, who expressed cautious optimism.
“We appreciate the work done by Chairman Roberts and Ranking Member Stabenow to advance this important piece of legislation in a timely manner,” he said. “While we were pleased to see many provisions in the bill that uphold a strong SNAP public-private partnership, we look forward to working alongside our members to ensure a Farm Bill is enacted that will protect and empower independent grocers to grow their businesses and better serve their customers.”
NGA’s top legislative priorities for the final Farm Bill include protections for private SNAP retailer sales data; preservation of consumer choice in SNAP; prohibition of any new fees or excessive reporting mandates; and an expanded Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive (FINI) program.
“Yesterday’s vote is a testament to the tenacity of Senators Roberts and Stabenow, and demonstrates that a bipartisan approach to important policy measures is the best way to make improvements to policies and programs the fresh produce industry relies on,” said Tom Stenzel, president and CEO of the United Fresh Produce Association.
The American Soybean Association in its response commended the Senate’s ongoing bipartisan work, which maintains much of the 2014 Farm Bill structure, including protecting crop insurance and commodity programs. The association says it will continue to advocate for on-time passage of a final bill before the 2014 Farm Bill expires the end of September.
“We are happy that the Senate’s bill continues the structure of Title 1 commodity programs and still offers producers a choice between the Price Loss Program (PLC) and the county Agricultural Risk Coverage (ARC-CO) program,” said John Heisdorffer, a soybean producer from Keota, Iowa, and ASA president. “While we would like to see market development funding increased, we are pleased that funding for Foreign Market Development (FMD) and Market Access Program (MAP) remains intact and is protected by consolidating those two programs under one export promotion umbrella.”
Environmental groups react
The responses to the Senate bill from environmental organizations, on the other hand, have been a mixed bag.
“This bipartisan bill delivers big wins for rural economies and conservation,” said Callie Eideberg, senior policy manager, sustainable agriculture for the Environmental Defense Fund, an international nonprofit organization. “It embraces on-farm innovations that improve water quality and build climate resilience. From funding soil health pilot projects to advancing data-driven precision agriculture, the Senate farm bill will incentivize the ambitious conservation approaches that the 21st century demands.
“It also addresses long-standing farmer feedback about ways to improve conservation programs—most notably by streamlining public-private partnerships, accelerating USDA’s approval process for new stewardship practices and rewarding conservation through lower crop insurance premiums.”
Friends of the Earth, another environmental organization, however, has taken issue with a number of the bill’s provisions.
“While the Senate’s Farm Bill does not include the extreme anti-environment riders and cruel cuts to nutrition programs from the House Bill, it continues to prop up destructive industrial agriculture,” said Lisa Archer, food and technology program director at Friends of the Earth. “At a time of ecological crisis, this Farm Bill will perpetuate climate chaos and biodiversity collapse and further degrade our soil, water and air. It also bolsters toxic, pesticide-intensive monocultures and polluting factory farms. The Senate’s Farm Bill wastes a critical window of opportunity to help make our food system more resilient, regenerative, healthy and just.
“We applaud the Senators who secured progress in the bill, including support for pollinators, conservation programs, and local and organic agriculture. We urge our elected leaders in both chambers to push for provisions like these, and fight for a Farm Bill that will move us toward a sustainable and equitable food future.”