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Tracking path of the 2018 Farm Bill: Chances and meanings in this political year

The last Farm Bill is about to set, but work is underway on the 2018 Farm Bill.
Credit: Dale Bowman

PEORIA, Ill.–Shore to shore, ice clotted the Illinois River Wednesday night.

Not sure if Eric Schenck envisioned that symbolism when he set up one of three forums, “Illinois Sportsmen’s Guide to the 2018 Farm Bill,’’ for Peoria. The Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership, in cooperation with the Illinois Conservation Foundation, hosted the forums.

I went to the one at the Gateway Building in Peoria. Most there were in groups such as Ducks Unlimited or Izaak Walton League.

`The House will move on something in the next eight weeks, by the middle of March,’’ said Steve Kline, director of government relations for TRCP. “There is a commitment from [Speaker Paul] Ryan to move the bill when it comes out of the committee.’’

The Senate will take longer on the Farm Bill. Kline suspects it will be sometime in May.

“My hope is that it is done before July Fourth weekend,’’ he said. “Closer it gets to November, less likely it gets done. If it holds over to 2019, have to start the process over again.’’

Work started on the 2014 Farm Bill in 2011. President Barack Obama signed it Feb. 7, 2014.

Kline thinks Congress, which has done little other than the Tax Bill, might be incentivised to pass the Farm Bill to show another accomplishment before facing voters in November.

The Farm Bill, passed every five years, covers federal farm, food and conservation policy.

I understand the Farm Bill is not going viral, but it matters, particularly for Illinois, ranked 46th among states for public land.

TRCP analysis suggests Illinois could lose up to 900,000 acres in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), the most well-known conservation program in the Farm Bill, if Congress does not re-authorize such Farm Bill conservation provisions in 2018. Illinois has about $163-64 million in CRP rental payments.

“The Farm Bill is one of the most important pieces of conservation legislation, bar none,’’ said Schenck, ICF executive director,

Nutrition, including food programs such as SNAP, makes up about 80 percent of the Farm Bill budget. Crop insurance for farmers is a growing part of the budget, about 8 percent in 2014. Conservation programs are about 6 percent, which translates to $5-6 billion.

“It is mainly a defensive battle to maintain what we have, to keep a broad range of tools and funding,’’ Schenck said.

There is a soup of acronyms-CRP, CREP, EQIP, RCPP, CSP–of conservation programs in the Farm Bill. Key is CRP.

In 2014, when commodity prices were high, CRP acreage dropped to 24 million. Kline thinks that in the 2018 bill, with lower commodity prices, CRP acreage will rise to 28-32 million.

TRCP is non-profit coalition, aimed at policy for conservation and the outdoors.

“Not so much Democrats and Republicans,’’ Kline said. “Challenge with Farm Bill is trade-offs with different interests. That’s the tension.’’

Illinois matters with three Downstate representative on the committee in the House and Sen. Dick Durbin a Senate leader.

“I do expect something this year,’’ Kline said. “I think they will get something done before summer.’’

I hope so and that it is shaped well for conservation.

TRCP will have a page set up on the Farm Bill has it moves out of committee and to Congress. You can also like TRCP on Facebook to stay abreast.