MISSION, RGV – There appears to widespread support in South Texas for congressional passage of the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018, also known as the Farm Bill.

All three members of Congress for the South Texas border region – Filemon Vela, Vicente Gonzalez and Henry Cullear – supported the bill, as did the South Texans’ Property Rights Association and the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association.

Having passed the House and Senate, the legislation now sits on the desk of the president, awaiting signature.

In a news release, Congressman Vela said America’s land and natural resources, trade opportunities, rural communities, and farmers and ranchers all benefit from strong agricultural policy, noting that the Farm Bill sets federal agricultural policy for the next five years.

Vela said the bill said it increases food security and helps Americans access the nutritious foods they need to keep their families healthy.

“The bill we negotiated protects critical nutrition priorities,” said Congressman Vela, who was the only Texas Democrat selected to serve as a conferee to the panel that reconciled the House and Senate versions of the bill. Vela represented the House Agriculture Committee.

“Food programs like SNAP and TEFAP help ensure that, in a country of great abundance, children, seniors, veterans, the disabled, and the most vulnerable do not go hungry.”

Vela said the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) will no longer face harmful additional work requirements initially proposed in an effort to remove recipients from the program. He said the Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) will have a funding increase of $20 million to assist local food banks and organizations with distributing foods to communities.

STPRA viewpoint

Susan Kibbe, executive director of the South Texans’ Property Rights Association (STPRA), applauded the members of the 115th U.S. Congress for their “work and wisdom” in passing the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018.

Susan Kibbe

“We especially commend Congressman Michael Conaway of Midland who chairs the U.S. House Committee on Agriculture for his leadership role in negotiating a bi-partisan compromise in the bill’s conference committee which allowed the bill to reach final passage. Those negotiations resolved many months of disagreements and debates and enabled a final version of the bill to be passed and sent to the President’s desk for his signature,” Kibbe said.

Kibbe said passage of the Farm Bill is of significant interest to many members of STPRA because they are concerned about the control and ultimate eradication of fever ticks and Chronic Wasting Disease (CWD).  

“The final version of the bill built on preliminary work done by Texas Congressmen Cuellar and Gonzalez, who earlier this year secured almost $100 million in additional funding for fever tick control, and bi-partisan legislation by Sen. Cornyn and Sen. Klobuchar which enhanced livestock inspections for disease control,” Kibbe said.

Kibbe STPRA is particularly pleased that the Farm Bill promotes a “comprehensive approach for eradicating targeted animal diseases, providing support for proven ongoing measures that are needed to prevent the immediate spread of the diseases.”

She said the bill also provides incentives for state colleges and other researchers to develop vaccines, biological treatments, and land management methods that could amp up the possibilities for the full eradication of diseases in the future.  

“It is our understanding that funding priorities for these programs will be set by the U.S. Secretary of Agriculture within the parameters of the bill. STPRA will remain vigilant as those priorities are being set, advocating on behalf of viable fever tick and CWD programs in the process,” Kibbe added.

Congressman Vela’s viewpoint 

In his news release, Vela discussed the National Animal Disease Preparedness and Response Program, which is in the Farm Bill. He noted that the program addresses the risk of introduction and the spread of animal pests and disease affecting U.S. livestock. 

U.S. Rep. Filemon Vela

“In addition to this program, the 2018 Farm Bill includes a Cattle Fever Tick Program that is designed to receive research and extension grants to assist ranchers and landowners and develop advanced methods for eradication of cattle fever ticks. The combination of these resources will help landowners and ranchers throughout Texas, and the entire country by preventing the further spread of harmful pests, assuring the future success of the U.S. cattle industry,” the news release states.

Vela said he successfully worked to include a $25 million Citrus Trust Fund through the Specialty Crop Research Initiative and a National Animal Disease Preparedness and Response Program. He said he also secured protections for cotton and sugar programs that are important to the South Texas economy.”

The $25 Million Citrus Trust Fund was established to support the Emergency Citrus Disease Research and Extension Program in an effort to combat pests and diseases that are harmful to the citrus industry, Vela noted.

Over the last several years, South Texas citrus growers have taken on the fight against Huanglongbing, commonly known as Citrus greening disease. Vela said this trust fund will ensure that growers and scientists have the necessary tools to eradicate the disease once and for all.

Another aspect of the Farm Bill will impact cotton and other commodity farmers, Vela said, noting that such farmers will have the opportunity to re-elect their crop coverage through the Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) or Price Loss Coverage (PLC) programs, with the option of changing their enrollment yearly beginning in 2021. Additionally, all farmers will now have the ability to update their yields in an effort to determine fair and accurate PLC payments, Vela noted.

With regard to the sugar industry, Vela said that after a tough fight over the U.S. Sugar Program earlier this year, the conference report maintains most of the existing program, with an added increase to the raw sugar cane loan rate.

“The passage of this bill is a step in the right direction for the American people,” Vela added.

TSCRA viewpoint 

Robert McKnight, Jr., president of the Texas and Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association (TSCRA) issued the following statement in response to final passage of the Farm Bill:

Robert McKnight

“We applaud today’s final passage of the 2018 Farm Bill, and especially thank Chairman Mike Conaway for his skillful leadership that made it possible. The legislation retains many of the hard-fought provisions that were essential to cattle raisers, including authorization for a foot-and-mouth disease vaccine bank and enhancements to important conservation programs such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.

“We look forward to President Trump’s signature, and the opportunity to collaborate with the administration on implementing many of the vital provisions in the 2018 Farm Bill.”

Congressman Gonzalez’s viewpoint 

Congressman Gonzalez said: “I am proud to support the 2018 Farm Bill, a product of true bipartisanship and compromise that will bring certainty and relief to the farmers and ranchers, families, seniors, and veterans that call Central and South Texas home. By passing this bill, Congress has signaled its support for cattle, citrus, cotton, sorghum, and sugar; committed to investments in rural broadband, healthcare, and infrastructure; and preserved the integrity of vital risk management, conservation, and nutrition programs that sustain and lift up our communities. I would like to thank my friend, Ranking Member Collin Peterson, and the entire Conference Committee for their work to deliver a Farm Bill that works for the 15th District of Texas.”

Congressman Vicente Gonzalez

Gonzalez said the Farm Bill Conference Report “supports good-paying rural jobs, strengthens the critical farmer safety net and bolsters opportunity in America’s small towns through rural development, sustainable conservation, research and energy initiatives.”

He listed some of the provisions in the legislation:

  • Extends Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honey Bees, and Farm-Raised Fish (ELAP) to cover the inspection of cattle fever tick;
  • Extends Sugar Policy in continued support of sugar growers in the Rio Grande Valley;
  • Establishes a $25 Million Citrus Trust Fund to support the Emergency Citrus Disease Research and Extension Program and combat harmful pests and diseases that are harmful to the citrus industry;
  • Creates the National Animal Disease Preparedness and Response Program, which serves to address the risk of introduction and the spread of animal pests and disease affecting livestock;
  • Includes a Cattle Fever Tick Program that is designed to receive research and extension grants to assist ranchers and landowners and develop advanced methods for eradication of cattle fever ticks;
  • Improves the Agriculture Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage programs and allows farmers to update their program yields;
  • Increases marketing loan rates to improve farmers’ cash flow and access to credit;
  • Updates overall limits on FSA farm loans to keep pace with increasing costs and land values;
  • Makes no cuts to the conservation title – maintains Environmental Quality Incentives Program and Conservation Stewardship Program, the nation’s largest working lands conservation program, with separate funding;
  • Improves water quality and soil health by encouraging farmers to plant cover crops, targets infrastructure investments to small town water systems to protect drinking water, and funds the Small Watershed Program and Dam Rehab;
  • Combines and establishes mandatory funding to help farmers stay globally competitive through initiatives that help to develop and expand their business in overseas markets;
  • Expands high-speed internet access in rural communities, expands telemedicine and community facility investments to help combat the opioid abuse epidemic, and strengthens mental health resources within the Farm and Ranch Stress Assistance network;
  • Increases job training opportunities to help SNAP participants find and keep good-paying jobs.