This week, both chambers of Congress passed the farm bill which members of the Florida delegation helped shape and sent it to President Donald Trump.
The final legislation--which is estimated to cost more than $850 billion--sets federal policy on food and agriculture for the next five years, covering a range of matters including farm subsidies, food stamps, crop conversation, bioenergy, support for dairy farmers and other policies.
The farm bill cleared the U.S. Senate on a 87-13 vote. Outgoing U.S. Sen. Bill Nelson, D-Fla., voted for the bill while U.S. Sen. Marco Rubio, R-Fla., joined 12 other Senate Republicans to vote against it.
Over in the House, the measure passed 369-47 as 182 Republicans and 189 Democrats voted to back it while 44 Republicans--four from Florida--joined three Democrats in voting against it. Sixteen members of the House--including U.S. Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Fla.--did not vote. Buchanan missed the vote due to a death in his family and the congressman attending the funeral.
U.S. Rep. Darren Soto, D-Fla., showcased his support of the farm bill, highlighting how it provides $125 million to fight citrus greening. Soto also noted it has “$300 million for the National Animal Health Vaccine Bank that will help the ranchers in Central Florida prepare for potential outbreak of disease,” as well as “funding for priority conservation programs” and “food assistance programs for Florida’s families."
“Florida’s economy, and in particular our district’s economy, relies on the thriving farmers and ranchers in our community. With our constituents in mind, I am proud to have secured these vital provisions in the Farm Bill to support our agricultural industry in Central Florida, while nationally protecting SNAP benefits, supporting strong conservation programs, investing in research, increasing rural economic development, and ensuring families have the nutrition support they need,” Soto said after the bill was passed. “There was nearly two years of work put into this critical bipartisan legislation. This final bill is a win for farmers and conservationists, as well as Florida’s families.”
Soto noted some of his proposals--ranging from using sensor technology on crop research to supporting the U.S. – Israel Binational Agricultural Research and Development (BARD) Program to studying algae to offering agriculture assistance for disabled veterans to his Seeds for the Future bill which “reinvests our public seed breeding and research programs, while improving coordination across the federal agencies that support these activities”--were all included in the final farm bill.
Buchanan was happy to see his proposal outlawing the slaughter of cats and dogs included in the final version.
“Millions of Americans enjoy a special bond with their beloved dogs and cats,” Buchanan said. “It is horrifying to think any of them would be slaughtered for food.”
From his perch on the U.S. House Agriculture Committee, U.S. Rep. Neal Dunn, R-Fla., said the bill was flawed but the positives outweighed the negatives.
“While not perfect, the 2018 Farm Bill gives certainty to our farmers, foresters, and ranchers at a time when many producers are struggling. Under the compromise legislation, we were able to strengthen the farm safety net, improve conservation programs, and make changes to the SNAP program. Our farmers need to know we have their backs and I look forward to this important legislation being signed into law,” Dunn said.
Dunn showcased the support that Florida agricultural groups, including the Florida Farm Bureau Federation, Florida Peanut Producers Association and the Florida Cattleman’s Association have the farm bill.
U.S. Rep. Ted Yoho, R-Fla., who also sits on the Agriculture Committee and worked for 35 years as a large animal veteran in North Florida before winning a congressional seat in 2012, praised the final farm bill.
“Today we have cleared the final hurdle to ensure America’s farmers and ranchers have the certainty they need to produce the most affordable, highest quality food in the world. The hard-working families of our agriculture community put food on the table of over 300 million people every day. We are blessed to have such abundance provided by so few,” Yoho said.
“The final vote we took today sets agriculture policy for the next five years. It was a long process, and I want to thank Chairman Conaway and his staff for all their hard work. While we did not get the common-sense reforms to the food stamp program, there are victories for our district and the state of Florida in this 2018 Farm Bill,” Yoho added. “We have retained the Foot and Mouth Disease (FMD) vaccine bank to help prevent devastating outbreaks of foot and mouth disease among our nation's livestock. We also secured the Specialty Crop Research Initiative (SCRI) for the creation of the Citrus Trust Fund. This fund is vital to protecting Florida’s billion-dollar citrus industry and will be instrumental in researching the causes of citrus disease (citrus greening) and how best to address the problem. Lastly, changes to the Research Facilities Act were included in the final bill and will help research universities, like the University of Florida, construct and improve their agricultural research facilities.
“A lot of good will come from these additions to the 2018 Farm Bill. I am honored to have had the opportunity to fight for them as a member of the House Agriculture Committee and a conferee,” Yoho concluded.
On the other side of the aisle, U.S. Rep. Kathy Castor, D-Fla. praised the inclusion of several water quality provisions that she championed even as Florida continues to deal with toxic algae.
“I promised to fight for solutions to red tide and harmful algal blooms and am pleased to report that a number of helpful water quality provisions are contained in the 2018 Farm Bill to clean up nutrients and wastes that pollute our waterways,” Castor said. “The bill encourages conservation and cleaner agricultural practices in the right places, prioritizing clean water investments and addressing obstacles that get in the way of continued improvements in water quality and algal bloom prevention.
“I am proud to say that my calls were heeded and these priorities were included in the Farm Bill that passed in the U.S. House today. Florida is a diverse agricultural state and the Farm Bill’s inclusion of conservation initiatives can play an important role in addressing the water quality challenges in Florida. The state of Florida, farmers, ranchers and local communities should use every tool to clean up our rivers, bays and coastal communities to protect our quality of life,” Castor added. “As we face an increasingly warming climate, the final farm bill also takes steps towards ensuring that farmers and ranchers reduce carbon pollution by providing incentives to producers who implement farming practices that capture carbon in soil.
“Florida’s farmers and ranchers are good stewards of the land and these provisions will be beneficial,” she concluded.
Four House Republicans from Florida--U.S. Reps. Matt Gaetz, Brian Mast, Bill Posey and Francis Rooney--voted against the farm bill.
“The farm bill is full of government handouts and is a complete capitulation to Democrats,” Rooney said. “Good conservative policies such as stricter work requirements for able-bodied adults to receive food stamps have been stripped out of the legislation. The bill also broadened unnecessary subsidies for farmers, which are now expanded to include non-farming family members. The farm bill continues to shelter farmers from free-market principles by protecting their subsidies including taxpayer-funded support for sugar, cotton and tobacco. The bill also extends biofuel subsidies.
“The American people are tired of Congress picking winners and losers,” Rooney added. “I was one of three Florida Republicans in the 115th Congress to vote against handouts to big sugar and will continue to protect taxpayers from special interests. Americans deserve better stewardship of their taxpayer dollars.”
Rubio insisted the farm bill “fails to do what is necessary to protect farmers, working families, and taxpayers” and bashed the final version of it even though he backed the one championed by the Senate.
“The conference committee had an opportunity to take the best provisions from both the Senate and House farm bills, but instead it appears to have combined the worst elements into legislation that I simply cannot support. When I voted for the Senate Farm Bill it was to advance the legislative process, with the goal being a five-year farm bill that would give Florida farmers much-needed confidence following the devastation of Hurricane Irma and the prospects of an uncertain trade future. The conferees failed to meet that standard,” Rubio said.