Congress agrees to 2018 farm bill

House and Senate find common ground after dropping controversial measures that would limit access to SNAP.

Update, December 12, 2018, 4:10 p.m.: The 2018 farm bill has passed in both chambers of Congress.

At last, it’s here. After months of negotiations, Agriculture Committee leaders from the House of Representatives and Senate announced that they’ve reached an agreement, in principle, on the 2018 Farm Bill—a nearly trillion-dollar legislative package that sets out policies on a range of food and agricultural priorities, from crop subsidies to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP, formerly known as food stamps), for the next five years.

“We’re pleased to announce that we’ve reached an agreement in principle on the 2018 Farm Bill,” the lawmakers announced in a statement today. “We are working to finalize legal and report language as well as CBO [Congressional Budget Office] scores, but we still have more work to do. We are committed to delivering a new farm bill to America as quickly as possible.”

The tentative deal was reached after House Republicans agreed to dump new, stricter laws around SNAP, which have been a major bone of contention in their chamber. Bloomberg reports that those provisions will be left out of the final bill. That would reconcile the House bill with the Senate bill, which did not impose new restrictions on SNAP benefits.

The final version of the bill will be made public next week.
“It’s more the Senate version than the House version,” Republican Representative Mike Conaway of Texas told Bloomberg. “Everything we had in the House bill was important but we made the compromises we needed to make to get this deal done.” He added that the bill would include more provisions to attack food-stamp fraud. (Current practices used to police food stamps fraud, The New Food Economy’s H. Claire Brown has reported, tend to unfairly penalize small retailers on dubious charges.)

While details are still emerging, Teaganne Finn of Bloomberg Government reports that major conservation programs, along with Republican Senator Mitch McConnell of Kentucky’s proposal to legalize industrial hemp, are included in the tentative deal.

The Conservation Stewardship Program, or CSP, subsidizes farmers who do things like plant cover crops, graze pasture, and work to minimize pesticide applications, in order to improve air, soil and water quality. The House version had called to eliminate the program, much to the chagrin of some farmers.

Meanwhile, McConnell’s hemp provision would remove the plant, which is fueling a booming CBD market, from the federal controlled substances list. It also allows hemp growers to apply for crop insurance—which crop farmers, especially those growing commodity grains, heavily depend upon to cover any losses. A proposal by Republican Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa to limit the amount of those subsidies will not be included in the bill, Finn reports.

Bloomberg reports that the final version of the bill will be made public next week.

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Sam Bloch is a contributing writer for The Counter, where he covers business, environment and culture. He has also written for The New York Times, L.A. Weekly, Places Journal, Art in America and other publications, and is currently working on his first book, a work of narrative nonfiction about shade, for Random House.