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5 things to know about how the farm bill affects you

FILE - In a Tuesday, Sept. 12, 2017 file photo, Jeff Winter operates his John Deere combine near Andale, as as he harvests corn on the family farm. (Bo Rader/The Wichita Eagle via AP, File)

The House and Senate approved an $867 billion farm bill this week in an overwhelming bipartisan vote and has sent the bill to the White House where President Donald Trump is expected to sign it in the coming days.

Few people want to see how the proverbial legislative sausage is made in Washington (or what's in it) but the massive 800-page bill will set the country's food policy for the next five years.

The 2018 Agriculture and Nutrition Act covers dozens of programs, from farm subsidies, crop insurance and food assistance, to forestry, rural development and conservation programs. In short, it impacts millions of jobs, the cost and availability of food, which crops are grown and how they're produced.

"This is a good bill that accomplishes what producers asked us to do," Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-Ks., said Thursday. "To provide certainty and predictability for farmers, families and our rural communities."

The last farm bill was enacted in 2014 and Congress allowed it expire Oct. 1 despite lawmakers having literally years to work on it. Both sides finally reached a strong, bipartisan agreement. "That's the way to get things done," Sen. Doug Jones, D-Ala. told Sinclair Broadcast Group.

Below are five things in the farm bill that will impact life for America's farmers, ranchers, growers and eaters.

1. NO WORK REQUIREMENTS FOR SNAP

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), better known as food stamps, became a major sticking point in the farm bill. SNAP helps feeds more than 40 million low-income American each year and accounted for roughly 80 percent of the costs of the 2018 farm bill.

House Republicans and President Trump supported a provision that would strictly enforce work requirements for SNAP recipients and cut billions of dollars from the program by reducing the number of qualifying recipients. The House initially approved the provision but it was opposed by Senate Democrats and stripped from the bill that passed this week.

Rep. Jody Hice, R-Ga., said he was disappointed the work provision did not make it into the final bill. "It’s important for individuals capable of working to do so. It’s unfortunate that was taken out, " Hice told WGXA.

Under current law, able-bodied food stamp recipients are already required to work part-time but many states get waivers. The GOP proposal would have limited those waivers and redirected SNAP benefit funds to create a $1 billion job training program that critics argue was untested.

The work requirement was intended to be part welfare reform and part cost-saving. Though Congress did not make substantial cuts to SNAP and were also blocked from cutting spending on water and soil conservation programs, the 2018 Agriculture and Nutrition Act costs $90 billion less than the 2014 farm bill.

The Trump administration is reportedly continuing to pursue changes to existing SNAP work requirements. In the coming weeks, the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) is expected to propose a regulation that could limit states' ability to waive the work requirement.

2. SUPPORT FOR LOCALLY GROWN GOODS

Your local farmers market will get a big boost in the coming years. Congress secured $500 million in permanent, mandatory funding for farmers markets as well as local and regional food hubs. That is more than twice the investment made in the last farm bill.

Farmers have seen a growing demand from consumers who want to know the location of the farm their vegetables came from, or even the name of the chicken they're eating. Mandatory funding for the Local Agriculture Market Program (LAMP) supports farm to table provisions creating more opportunities for small and medium-sized farmers to get their products directly to consumers.

The program will offer additional grants for those farmers that supply farmers markets and ensure rural and urban communities have access to fresh foods.

The doubling of funding reflects the program's positive impact on local and regional food markets. According to USDA estimates, the number of farmers markets have increased by 86 percent since 2007 and the number of local and regional food hubs has increased by 165 percent in the last decade. Local and regional food markets will produce $20 billion in sales by next year.

Organic farmers will see $50 million in funds aimed at research and education. The provision doubles what USDA currently spends on its Organic Agriculture Research and Extension Initiative (OREI).

Advocates anticipate the program will expand the market for organic goods and lead to more widespread use of organic farming methods that protect natural resources and biodiversity.

3. LEGALIZED HEMP

No, Congress did not just vote to legalize marijuana. It did vote to legalize the cultivation of industrial hemp a variety of the cannabis plant whose fibrous stalks are used to make fabric, rope, paper, cardboard and other products.

The provision made its way into the final farm bill thanks to an unlikely sponsor, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky. McConnell teamed up with Oregon Democratic Senators Ron Wyden and Jeff Merkley in a move that is expected to be a boon for Kentucky and other states looking to supplant tobacco with industrial hemp.

"At a time when farm income is down and growers are struggling, industrial hemp is a bright spot of agriculture’s future," McConnell tweeted.

Hemp production has been banned under federal drug laws going back to the 20th century. The 2018 farm bill lifts the ban and puts the USDA and state departments of agriculture in control of regulating its cultivation.

In many states, hemp farmers will be able to participate in programs they were historically cut off from, like getting access to water rights, crop insurance and banking.

Many proponents of legalized marijuana also see hemp legalization as a "bright spot" for the future. Though hemp does not get a person high, it does have a small amount of the psychoactive chemical THC as marijuana. This may open up new legal questions around cannabidiol (CBD), a low-THC drug that can be derived from industrial hemp.

4. EXPANDED TRADE OPPORTUNITIES

On top of natural disasters like the recent years' droughts, wildfires and hurricanes, farmers also faced man-made difficulties and financial losses from tariffs cutting off foreign market access.

"There’s a lot of anxiety in the ag world because of trade and prices," Rep. Darin LaHood, R-Ill., told KHQA Wednesday. Some of that anxiety will be alleviated with the Wednesday passage of the farm bill, which guarantees critical programs will be in place beginning in January.

The 2018 farm bill offers some relief to producers who are suffering losses as a result of U.S. and Chinese retaliatory tariffs. The most notable provision sets aside an additional $500 million to help farmers find new foreign markets to export goods.

The bill also gives the Agriculture Secretary discretion over a $6 million Priority Trade Fund that can be used toward market development or export promotion activities. The bill also funds existing market access and foreign market development programs at existing levels.

More than 43 million U.S. jobs are tied to food and agriculture industries, according to the U.S. Food and Ag Industries. America is the world's top food exporter and with only 2.1 million farmers, it's the world's most efficient producer.

5. MORE SUBSIDIES

Some call them safety nets, other call them handouts. Agriculture subsidies were another thorny issue for Congress to navigate in this year's farm bill. And according to critics, they did a poor job.

Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, bashed the bill as "an open-ended spigot of taxpayer subsidies." Grassley was one the 13 senators who opposed the farm bill; all of them were Republicans. The bill passed in the House with a 369-47 in the House.

Among the controversial changes, the 2018 bill expands the farm subsidy program to allow nieces, nephews and first cousins to collect benefits, even if they don't work on the farm.

The 2018 farm bill authorized $400 billion worth of agriculture subsidies over the next ten years. Some of the biggest winners are large producers of corn, sugar, wheat, cotton and soybeans. Critics argue the subsidies primarily benefit large factory farms and have promoted the consolidation of U.S. agriculture.

Dairy farmers were also given an expanded safety net in the new farm bill after the tariff war led to a steep decline in milk exports and prices.

Separate from subsidies, Congress also expanded crop insurance to cover more types of farmers, like veterans and beginners and more products.

Over the past five years, natural and man-made disasters have led to a recession in U.S. agriculture. Producers have reported a 50 percent decline in profits. To alleviate some of the hardship, crop insurance coverage will be expanded to previously ineligible crops, including fruits, vegetables, hops and barley.

Even with its many additions, the Congressional Budget Office reported that the farm bill will not add to the federal deficit over the next ten years.

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