NORMAL — For Illinois Farm Bureau spokesman Adam Nielsen, the 2018 farm bill is as intriguing as the world’s most popular sport.
“The farm bill is very much like the United States agriculture’s version of the World Cup,” he said. “It happens every five years and there is a big buildup to it that starts about two years ahead of time. We spend a lot of time thinking about it and preparing for it.”
Last month, the Senate passed its version of the $428 billion bill, but a conference committee still needs to reconcile differences with the House version that was passed June 21.
“It takes a lot of effort, energy and resources to get a farm bill in place and it’s not an easy political fit,” said Nielsen.
And, it’s not necessarily all about farming, Nielsen said recently at a B-N By the Numbers program at Illinois State University. Attached to the legislation passed by the House are new requirements for recipients of the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, or SNAP.
“The SNAP program represents about 60 to 70 percent of farm bill spending, so it gets a lot of attention,” he said. “Republicans in the House decided they wanted to attach work requirements such as 20 hours a week to those who want to receive SNAP and that is a very controversial subject. It caused all of the Democrats to oppose the farm bill and there are a lot of other hard issues.”
The Senate version does not include work requirements for SNAP benefits.
About every five years, Congress must pass a new farm bill to include programs for commodity supports, conservation, forestry and nutrition assistance. The current bill expires Sept. 30.
“I’m happy with it and pleased with the work they have done,” said Blue Mound farmer Rob Albers, who also serves on the Governmental Affairs Committee for the Macon County Farm Bureau. “Basically, they didn’t change much for farmers and left the insurance programs and other programs in place. That was our wish and it’s what the Farm Bureau was hoping for as well.”
Piatt County Farm Bureau Manager Emily Zelhart said she also is pleased with the bill as it stands now because there are few changes that will affect Central Illinois farmers.
“With so much uncertainty and the market volatility caused by the administration’s recent trade actions, on top of an already down farm economy, it’s essential that the House and Senate move quickly to pass a new farm bill with a strong safety net, and give farmers one less thing to worry about,” she said.
DeWitt County Farm Bureau Manager Janell Thomas said that with DeWitt County being a crop-heavy county, the main focus for local farmers was to ensure the security of crop insurance.
"There was initial concern last week that an amendment sponsored in part by (Democratic) Sen. (Dick) Durbin might have negatively affected crop insurance premiums for farmers. However, Illinois Farm Bureau members rallied to protect the current program," she said.
That amendment would have increased crop insurance premiums for many farmers.
"It’s now on to conference committee where a lot of the bigger issues will be hashed out again, but the clock is ticking," said Thomas. "We’ve seen in previous years that building a farm bill that suits all stakeholders is a slow and sometimes painful process. Farmers are hopeful to avoid expiration of the current bill on Sept. 30 without new legislation to take its place."
“Sound farm bill policy means a strong rural America,” added Lynn Rohrscheib, president of the Illinois Soybean Growers, based in Bloomington. "We face many uncertainties in our industry today from markets to trade, but a farm bill ensures stability. We also recognize that a farm bill is not only beneficial to the ag community, but to the many Americans that benefit from food and nutrition programs.”
Unless major changes are made, the bill will still include a strong crop insurance program, satisfying the Bloomington-based Illinois Farm Bureau’s top priority.
Kevin Hilligoss, the Decatur Regional Office Manager for Soy Capitol Ag Services in Forsyth, also hopes there will be no major changes for local farmers.
“As far as corn and soybean support payments for Central Illinois, there shouldn’t be big changes, and the same thing with crop insurance,” he said. “There may be some changes for payment limits as far as who is eligible to be paid and at what income level you would get paid. Those are the things that could affect Central Illinois farmers the most.”
“Passing this bill not only shows support for agriculture, but it shows the American people that we are not satisfied with the status quo, which is a welfare system that perpetuates poverty,” he said. “Despite our growing economy, we still have 9 million more people on SNAP today than we did at the height of the recession when jobs were scarce and unemployment reached double-digits."
He said the bill would invest "historic amounts in workforce training (to) help pair work-capable adults receiving SNAP benefits with jobs being created by our economy. We should always strive to make government better and this bill does that.”