Farm Bill broken down: Brown’s adviser highlights clean water, technology

Clean water efforts and several technology based issues led the changes in the 2018 Farm Bill as
presented by Jonathan McCracken, senior policy adviser to U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, at the Northwest Ohio
Ag-Business Breakfast Forum Thursday.
The bill overview highlighted what it means for Ohio farmers, the Western Lake Erie Basin and the future
of American agriculture as well as several of Brown’s priorities and their reflection to regional
issues.
“Farm Bill politics are different from other bills. Instead of folks aligning by political party,
Democrat or Republican, typically issues align on region of the country you’re from,” McCracken said.
“So the Midwest typically sticks together against the South. This is a historic thing. It’s kind of the
commodity politics of it. Westerners are almost never on the committee, with few exceptions.”
Brown, a Democrat, worked closely with Sen. Debbie Stabenaw, D-Michigan, Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine and
Sen. John Thune, R-South Dakota.
“The Senate Farm Bill was incredibly bi-partisan,” McCracken said, adding that it had to work for both
farmers and charter boat captains on Lake Erie.
The House of Representatives’ version was passed on party lines and was very different from the Senate
version. McCracken explained how the Senate version prevailed with a vote of 87-13 in the Senate and
369-47 in the House.
This is the third Farm Bill Brown has been involved in. The previous Farm Bill was passed in 2014. In the
process, Brown and his office held more than 30 roundtable discussions in Ohio.
McCracken didn’t note any drops in funding, but did mention several changes in programs.
The protection and improvement in water quality underlied several programs.
McCracken explained how several regions around the country were able to form a coalition because of
similar water related problems to those found in the Maumee basin and Lake Erie. He noted how both the
Gulf area in Florida and New England have had environmental problems with their waterways that were
addressed in the bill.
Brown’s Clean Lakes Estuaries and Rivers program is intended to protect drinking water sources by
prioritizing the enrollment of 2 million acres of land in the Conservation Reserve Program.
Advanced payments for beginning farmers were authorized as a part of the Environmental Quality Incentive
Program, “which will reserve funding for conservation practices that protect drinking water,” McCracken
said.
Brown also added an amendment that will allow states to choose up to 10 environmentally beneficial
practices that are eligible for up to 90 percent cost share under EQIP.
Brown also included reforms to the Conservation Stewardship Program, prioritizing cover crops and crop
rotations.
The Agricultural Conservation Easement Program is being funded at $450 million per year, which McCracken
said is an increase of $2 billion over 10-year funding levels in the 2014 bill.
Crop insurance was modified in the 2018 bill. While he said it was largely unchanged, it added provisions
for cover crops, calling them “a good farming practice.” It also added insurance tools for more
specialty crops. McCracken said Brown is particularly interested in malting barley in Ohio.
Among the numerous updates to commodity programs, the Farm Bill provided $500 million in permanent
baseline funding for local food promotion and investment. McCracken said this will help “smaller
producers increase sales, grow their operations, and create more value out of their products.”
Research funding was also increased by $630 million. That included new investment in “cutting-edge
research” being performed at Ohio State University and Central State University.
Rural broadband will have $350 million in funding.
There were also several changes to the dairy program. There was an expansion of coverage options for
dairy farmers with the new Dairy Margin Coverage program.
“The dairy program in the 2014 Bill didn’t work the way we thought it would, so we made some tweaks over
the years,” McCracken said. “Dairy’s a really tough market. We hope this will make some difference for
folks.”
Mike McCann, mayor of Defiance, referenced the convergence of the Maumee, Auglaize and Tiffin rivers in
relation to improving water quality.
“We feel we can help, but we need money to help,” he said.
McCracken replied, “One of the things folks have realized in this Farm Bill is that municipalities can
play a role.”
McCann also pointed out the interest in his area in rural broadband.