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Ag Bill conference talks underway
Lawmakers hashing out the differences in House, Senate versions
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Congressman Roger Marshall, right, stands with Sen. Pat Roberts as the House and Senate begin conference committee deliberations on the Farm Bill Wednesday in Washington, D.C.

 WASHINGTON D.C.- The United States Senate and House agriculture committee leaders Wednesday morning hosted a meeting with the full Farm Bill Conference Committee. This public meeting gave each member time to outline priorities that are most important to them as the two chambers reconcile their versions of the farm legislation crucial to ag producers nationally and here in Barton County. 

“The 2018 Farm Bill touches a lot of people,” said Congressman Roger Marshall, the Republican Kansas representative for the First District. “My hope is today we realize we have far more in common in this bill than we have apart and can get a final bill done on time. Kansas and all of agriculture is counting on us.”

The bill is the primary agricultural and food policy tool of the federal government. The comprehensive omnibus bill is renewed every five years or so and deals with both agriculture and all other affairs under the purview of the United States Department of Agriculture.

The last farm bill was approved in 2014 and funds these programs through this year. The 2018 installment met resistance from both Republicans and Democrats, but eventually cleared both houses of Congress.

Lawmakers face a Sept. 30 deadline to pass a compromise measure. It will go to President Donald Trump who has the final say.

“Kansas agriculture is in uncertain times,” Marshall said. Multiple years of low prices and continued drought have taken their toll. 

Today Kansas farm bankruptcies are six times what they were just three years ago. “That is why I have no higher priority than a five-year farm bill, done on time,” Marshall said. 

In addition, Marshall, who sits on the House ag committee and is a conference committee member, farm country needs a multi-year bill that protects crop insurance, tightens the safety net, opens markets and makes responsible investments in our communities. 

“I’m pleased that both bills make serious efforts at improving title one payments and the data used to calculate them and am hopeful that the final bill will expand access to them,” he said. “Agriculture is a risky endeavor; I see no need for the federal government to place more rules on who should be covered or how their business should be structured.” 

He also liked that both bills include new provisions on animal health. “When we consider the economic harm from an animal disease outbreak, it is crucial that Congress invests in monitoring, research, response training, and vaccines.”

A great deal of the success in American agriculture has been from the adoption of technology, which is a direct result of investments made in agricultural research, Marshall said. The USDA’s research and funds provided to universities like Kansas State, help keep our producers on the cutting edge. 

In conservation, keeping good land in production and focusing our working lands programs is the right approach, he continued. In addition, as a physician, Marshall said he saw firsthand the impact that nutrition had on the mothers and babies he served.

He appreciated the nutrition provisions the House put forward, such as the changes in the SNAP benefit program.

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., chairman of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, is leading the conference talks.

“This is the eighth farm bill that I’ve been a part of during my time in public service,” Roberts said. “The circumstances are always a bit different, but we all have a history of working together in a bipartisan, bicameral fashion to find solutions and to get farm bills done. If it was important then, it is even more so now.”

The goal, the responsibility, the absolute requirement is to provide farmers, ranchers, growers and everyone within America’s agriculture and food value chain certainty and predictability during these very difficult times, Roberts said. This is paramount to many other issues and concerns.

“Both the House and Senate recognize this need,” he said. “Clearly, both have taken the steps to get us to this point today. We are very close to the finish line, but we still have a lot of work — a lot of compromise — that remains to be done.”

It is not an exaggeration to say the nation’s food and fiber production capability hangs in the balance, Roberts said. “Time is of the essence. Let us work together to get this done.”

Technically, the farm bill is known as Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018.