COURTNEY SUPPORTS FARM BILL WITH CRITICAL PROVISIONS FOR EASTERN CONNECTICUT AGRICULTURE
Today, Congressman Joe Courtney (CT-02) voted in support of the Agriculture Improvements Act of 2018—a five-year authorization of agriculture commodity and nutrition programs that the House passed on Thursday by a vote of 369-47. The Farm Bill will now head to the President’s desk for signature.
“The passage of this bill is welcome news throughout eastern Connecticut. This farm bill agreement includes many important provisions aimed at providing support and a level playing field for established crops and farm commodities in our region, while breaking down barriers to developing others,” Courtney said. “One of the most exciting areas of opportunity in this measure is the expansion of industrial hemp production, which I have long seen as a tremendous opportunity to grow our agricultural sector in Connecticut. As important, this bill maintains the status quo for nutrition assistance programs that faced deep cuts in the initial House version, prioritizes substance abuse recovery programs within the Rural Development title, and expands land conservation programs. Together, this is a good package for eastern Connecticut.”
As a former member of the House Agriculture Committee, Courtney is keenly aware of the needs of farmers and the food insecure across eastern Connecticut. Notably, the 2018 Farm Bill legalizes industrial hemp production in the United States, which will kickstart a new wave of agriculture production in Connecticut. The Farm Bill also accounts for regional disparities in dairy production costs by supporting smaller producers and covering larger margins. Further, this legislation left out harmful stringent work requirement proposals that sought to block nutrition assistance from the neediest Americans.
Improvements for Dairy Farmers
The 2018 Farm Bill builds on the structure of the Margin Protection Program, renaming it the Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) program. Through the DMC program, producers may purchase up to $9.50 margin coverage, which should benefit northeast farmers when looking at regional disparities in feed and operating expenses. Further, the producer premiums associated with the new DMC program are much lower on the first five million pounds of production than both the House and Senate draft bills—a nod to the traditional smaller farms across New England.
Eastern Connecticut dairy producers tend to operate on much slimmer margins, and increasing the national margin for coverage will provide much-needed additional support.
James Smith of Cushman Farms in Franklin said: “This is great news for northeast dairy farmers. We know that the farm bill has leveled the playing field for us.”
In an effort to address milk prices in a flooded market, this Farm Bill will allow producers to be paid for donating extra milk to food banks through the Commodity Credit Corporation.
The Farm Bill also requires a feed price survey that will examine if regional feed costs are representative of the national average used for dairy assistance calculations. Anecdotally, Connecticut farmers pay a much higher feed cost than the national average, and Courtney has be pushing back against current calculations for years.
Protecting Nutrition Assistance Programs
The 2018 Farm Bill rejects draft proposals that would impose harmful work requirements on recipients of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). The nutrition title of the Farm Bill represents one of the biggest compromises of this legislation, and protecting the fundamental structure of funding of SNAP was critical for passage.
"We are thankful for the bipartisan passage of the 2018 Farm Bill. As advocates for individuals and families, we are grateful to see the elimination of any work mandate on SNAP benefit eligibility. Many of those who utilize SNAP are currently working, but not making enough to make ends meet-SNAP benefits help fill that gap. For those recipients who are not working, many times it is because they cannot, due to age or disability. SNAP benefits become a lifeline to insure quality nutrition for themselves and their families,” said Deborah Monahan, Executive Director, Thames Valley Council for Community Action. “Our staff have seen SNAP benefits assist individuals and families struggling through difficult circumstances. A work mandate could have been detrimental to the utilization of the SNAP program. Now many families can count on SNAP to put food on their table and that reduces hunger in our communities.”
“Food insecurity in Vernon and surrounding communities is wide-spread,” said David O’Rourke, CEO of Hockanum Valley Community Council. “SNAP benefits provide an a integral safety net those who are elderly and disabled, along with those who underemployed. Limiting access through something like a work mandate would only further harm those that the program aims to help.”
Legalizing Industrial Hemp for Agriculture Production
One of the most exciting provisions in the 2018 Farm Bill is the legalization of industrial hemp nationwide. Building on a pilot program authorized through the 2014 Farm Bill with Courtney’s strong support, this legislation will help spur growth in Connecticut’s economy through the collaboration of agriculture and entrepreneurial stakeholders. Courtney has long been a supporter of expanding industrial hemp farming, and is a cosponsor of the bipartisan Hemp Farming Act of 2018 to legalize hemp farming and production.
Industrial hemp is an incredibly versatile crop. These are over 25,000 different uses for industrial hemp, which brings in an estimated $580 million in annual sales in the U.S. Hemp farming is widely seen in Connecticut as an existing opportunity to expand our agricultural markets.
Jeff Wentzel, founding member of the CT Hemp Association, said: “The CT Hemp Industry Association is happy to see the legalization of hemp cultivation as part of the 2018 Farm Bill. The prior Farm Bill created a legal pathway to hemp farming through State research pilot programs and 40 states created hemp programs to allow their farmers to grow industrial hemp. The 2018 Farm Bill goes further in removing industrial hemp from any Controlled Substance schedule – but also includes things like farm insurance and USDA research grants. We look forward to working with the CT Dept of Agriculture to create fair, common sense regulations appropriate for Connecticut so farmers in our state can take advantage of this new cash crop.”
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