Farm Bill 101

As all of official Washington, D.C. eagerly awaits the daily tweet storm from 1600 Penn, and most of Capitol Hill seems locked in endless partisan displays of bravado, the agricultural community and its allies are hard at work preparing for the once-every-five-year slugfest, the “Farm Bill.”

The Farm Bill is an omnibus, multi-year law that governs an array of agricultural and food programs, as well as regulatory issues. Titles in the most recent Farm Bill encompassed farm commodity price and income supports, agricultural conservation, farm credit, trade, research, rural development, bioenergy, foreign food aid and domestic nutrition assistance.

By renewing the Farm Bill about every five years, policymakers are given the opportunity to comprehensively and periodically address agricultural and food issues. The most recent Farm Bill, the Agricultural Act of 2014, was enacted into law in February 2014 and expires on September 30, 2018.

The 2014 Farm Bill succeeded the Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008. Provisions in the 2014 Farm Bill reshaped the structure of farm commodity support, expanded crop insurance coverage, consolidated conservation programs, reauthorized and revised nutrition assistance and extended authority to appropriate funds for many U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) discretionary programs through FY2018. Several regulatory reform issues were also in play, though few made it through to the Farm Bill Conference Committee—a committee made up of members from both parties and both houses of Congress appointed to resolve differences between House and Senate versions of legislation.

When the 2014 Farm Bill was enacted, the Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimated that the total cost of mandatory programs would be $489 billion for FY2014-FY2018. Four titles accounted for 99 percent ($483.8 billion) of anticipated Farm Bill mandatory program outlays: nutrition, crop insurance, conservation and farm commodity support. The nutrition title, which includes the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), comprised 80 percent of the total. The remaining 20 percent was mostly geared toward agricultural production across several other titles.

CBO has updated its projections of government spending based upon new information regarding the economy and program participation. Outlays for FY2014-FY2016 have become final, and updated projections for FY2017 and FY2018 reflect lower farm commodity prices and lower costs for SNAP. The new five-year estimated cost of the 2014 Farm Bill, as of June 2017, is now $453 billion for the four largest titles, compared with $484 billion for those same titles three years ago. This is $31 billion less than what was projected at enactment. SNAP outlays are projected to be $27 billion less for the five-year period FY2014-FY2018 than was expected in February 2014. Crop insurance is projected to be $11 billion less for the five-year period and conservation nearly $5 billion less. In contrast, farm commodity and disaster program payments are projected to be about $12 billion higher than was expected at enactment due to lower commodity market prices (which raises counter-cyclical payments) and higher livestock payments due to disasters.

Now, why does this matter to NPMA? As Congress approaches the writing of the next Farm Bill, they do so with considerably fewer financial resources. With less to spend, it will be harder for Representatives and Senators to craft provisions that enhance the producer and consumer safety net, placing increased stock on provisions which provide regulatory relief, and most importantly to the Congressional budgeteers—DO NOT COST.

Believe it or not, and I know some of you are a bit skeptical, Congress plays a vital role in ensuring a bountiful agricultural economy, especially amid the farm industry’s current economic downturn.

Why should the Farm Bill be passed now? A failure by Congress to enact a new bill or put in place an extension by October, 2018 would force measures from 1949 and 1938 to go into effect. The USDA would be required to limit the number of acres farmers can grow and penalties would be imposed on farmers who exceed such acreage limits, among other changes. Some programs cease to operate unless reauthorized, while others might continue to pay old obligations. Nutrition assistance programs require periodic reauthorization, and many discretionary programs would lose statutory authority to receive appropriations.

Some of you may be wondering whether this means that authority to regulate would expire. I hate to be the bearer of bad news, but the laws conveying authority to regulate things such as food and consumer safety, and pesticide use are what is referred to as “permanent authority,” and do not require reauthorization.

So, if the Farm Bill expires, the food and ag sector loses many of the programs they like, but keeps the burdensome regulatory requirements that they would like to… ahem… “fix.” Well, folks, today we have an opportunity to do just that. We have a chance to fix some of the issues that have been causing all of us agitation for so many years.

NPMA has worked cooperatively with other like-minded organizations in the pesticide policy community to develop a suite of regulatory reform proposals we will request be included in the 2018 Farm Bill. These proposals DO NOT weaken environmental protections or in any way jeopardize health and safety. Instead, they streamline pesticide review, reduce regulatory burdens, and clarify the role of EPA’s regulatory partners in the states to reduce public confusion, and allow your companies to continue to provide the high-quality services that your customers have come to appreciate.

As you know, under the Federal Insecticide, Fungicide and Rodenticide Act (FIFRA), a state may regulate the sale and use of federally registered pesticides to the extent that regulation does not permit any sales or uses prohibited by FIFRA.

Regarding state and local authorities, FIFRA includes provisions requiring pesticide manufacturers to produce records for inspection “upon request of any officer or employee…of any state or political subdivision,” §136f(b); directing the EPA to cooperate with “any appropriate agency of any state or any political subdivision thereof…in securing uniformity of regulations,” § 136t(b); and specifying that “[a] State” may regulate pesticide sale or use so long as such regulation does not permit a sale or use prohibited by the Act, § 136v(a).

As you see, FIFRA is designed so that state lead agencies share responsibility to regulate intrastate pesticide sale and use, as well as to enforce federal regulations. Unfortunately, cooperation between EPA and state lead agencies in developing regulatory proposals is at best ad hoc, but more often than not during the previous administration, completely lacking. Although provisions exist under section 25 of FIFRA (7 U.S.C. 136w) for consultation between EPA and both USDA and the Congressional Agriculture Committees, no such requirement exists to affirm a formal consultative role and/or coordination with state lead agencies during the development of regulations, which these state partners will ultimately be responsible to implement and enforce.

NPMA is working in partnership with the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) to codify the exclusive role of state lead agencies as pesticide co-regulators and to ensure that the expertise of these agencies is valued and integrated through their formal role in the development of pre-publication drafts of EPA regulatory proposals and regulations in final form. Highlighting the role of the state lead agency with the EPA through cooperative federalism, while ensuring statewide pesticide regulatory consistency will benefit all NPMA members, will be a primary issue at NPMA’s 2018 Legislative Day.

In addition to advocating for Cooperative Federalism in the 2018 Farm Bill, NPMA and pesticide industry allies will be pushing for much-needed reform of the Endangered Species Act and the elimination of unnecessary National Pollutant Discharge Elimination System (NPDES) Permits.

The 2018 Farm Bill is a unique opportunity for the structural pest management industry, and it is critical that we see you in Washington at NPMA’s Legislative Day March 18-20, 2018 to assist in these efforts and let your voice be heard.


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