Farm bill shows that the machinery of government still works

Most of the farm bill involves food-related programs, but it is also important legislation for farmers and ranchers. President Donald J. Trump is expected to sign the Farm Bill into law today. (Photo by Mark Trahant)

Mark Trahant

President Donald J. Trump is expected to sign the bill into law Thursday at 2:30 pm

Stop the digital presses. Just when you think Congress can’t possibly become any more dysfunctional … it fools you and passes reasonable legislation. The new Farm Bill is not perfect, but tribes won a lot of good provisions and defeated harsh rules that would have forced people off of federal food programs.

And then? President Trump is supposed to sign the bill into law on Thursday at 2:30 pm Eastern. The machinery of government is working.

Basically there were two versions of the Farm Bill (which, despite its name is more of a “food bill.”) Nutrition-related programs total some 80 percent of the cost the legislation, while spending for crop insurance, conversation, and commodities, represents just under 20 percent.

The House bill was essentially written by Republicans for Republicans. It had no chance in the Senate and included such things as a requirement that all able-bodied adults work in order to participate in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, program. Another provision would have limited environmental laws ranging from the Endangered Species Act to rules about pesticides. But the Senate said no. And after a conference committee sided mostly with the Senate, the legislative process reached its goal. Again, government worked.

“Through passage of the conference report for the 2018 Farm Bill, I am pleased that lawmakers showed bipartisan support for the continued success of our nation’s farmers and ranchers,” said Rep. Tom Cole, R-Oklahoma. Cole is a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation. “To maintain healthy crops and produce, farmers and ranchers greatly rely on the crop insurance, conservation and various other programs contained in the Farm Bill. While the reauthorization of these vital securities promotes a thriving agricultural sector, American families and consumers are also better off when certainty is provided to our food growers and producers."

The food programs serve a significant number of American Indians and Alaska Natives, nearly a quarter of all families qualified for food benefits from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

While the Republicans did not have the votes in Congress to limit participation in federal food programs, the White House announced new restrictions. The U.S. Department of Agriculture unveiled a proposed rule to add work requirements in government assistance programs and stricter time limits on participation.

"A central theme of the Trump administration has been to expand prosperity for all Americans, which includes helping people lift themselves out of pervasive poverty," said Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, noting it will save $15 billion over 10 years. The proposed rule "restores the dignity of work to a sizable segment of our population, while it's also respectful of the taxpayers who fund the program."

The rule will have to go through a formal comment period before it can be implemented and is also likely to see legal challenges.

Sen. John Hoeven, R- North Dakota, and chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, hailed the passage bipartisan legislation, including the provisions to support agriculture in Indian Country.

“Our producers need the certainty that comes with the passage of a five-year farm bill,” said Chairman Hoeven, who was a member of the farm bill conference committee. “The bill includes important tribal provisions from the CROPS Act, which were the result of input by Tribal producers from across Indian Country. We worked hard to ensure that the farm bill supports our Native American communities and as chairman, I will continue to work to strengthen Tribal agricultural production.”

Hoeven outlined priorities for Indian Country he worked to include in the final farm bill, including:

-- CROPS for Indian Country Act: Hoeven secured key provisions from his bipartisan CROPS for Indian Country Act that will promote agribusiness in Indian Country, support research opportunities and partnerships between tribal colleges and universities, and strengthen Tribal self-governance for USDA programs. These provisions:

--  Establish a PL 93-638 tribal pilot project to bolster greater local control over procurement of goods for tribal nutrition programs.

-- Expand support for research opportunities at Tribal Colleges and Universities.

--  Make permanent the USDA Tribal Advisory Committee to provide technical assistance to the Secretary of Agriculture.

--  Promote trade opportunities for local producers by directing the Secretary, when applicable, appoint Tribal producers to international trade missions.

--   The bill also includes a technical fix for names of Tribal Colleges and Universities including Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College in New Town, North Dakota.

“I worked closely with stakeholders throughout Indian Country and key partners on both the Senate Indian Affairs and Senate Agriculture Committees to make sure every title of this year’s Farm Bill supports tribal families, farmers, and ranchers in a meaningful way,” said Sen. Tom Udall, D-New Mexico**.** “I’m very pleased that we were able to work across committees and across the political aisle to secure a record number of tribal priorities for Indian Country in this Farm Bill.”

National Congress of American Indians President Jefferson Keel said: “This legislation recognizes the governmental status of tribal nations and the role tribal growers and producers have in the food systems and resource management practices that affect the daily lives of all Americans. We look forward to President Trump’s swift signing into law of the 2018 Farm Bill.”

One other interesting provision in the Farm Bill is a legalization of hemp products (the same plant of cannabis that can produce marijuana.). The bill defines hemp as a cannabis plant with less than 0.3 percent of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana. But the non-drug hemp has many uses from rope to food products.

As John Hudak wrote for the Brookings Institution this this legislation makes hemp a mainstream crop. The Farm Bill has no effect on state-legal cannabis programs. Over the past 22 years, 33 states have legalized cannabis for medical purposes, and over the past six years, 10 states have legalized cannabis for adult use. Every one of those programs is illegal under federal law, with no exceptions, and the Farm Bill does nothing to change that. That said, many in the advocacy community hope that the reforms to hemp policy under the Farm Bill serve as a first step toward broader cannabis reform.”

CNBC estimates that hemp production could grow into a $20 billion industry by 2022.

Mark Trahant is editor of Indian Country Today. He is a member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribes. Follow him on Twitter - @TrahantReports


The National Congress of American Indians is the owner of Indian Country Today and manages its business operations. The Indian Country Today editorial team operates independently as a digital journalism enterprise.

Comments (1)
No. 1-1

Pinaga (Good one). This bill helps Tribal Colleges and Universities in building their research capacity.