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Jun 21, 2018
Press Release

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Congressman Kevin Cramer announced the passage today of H.R. 2, the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 in the House of Representatives. The Farm Bill repeals the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS), preserves crop insurance and the sugar program, strengthens the commodity support program, includes Cramer’s improvements to rainfall collection data procedures, his fix to the Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) program, and provides producers more freedom to farm by including Cramer’s swampbuster minimal effects reform.                     

"The Farm Bill is a marathon, but today’s success is a significant step towards long term certainty for our producers,” said Cramer. “Our legislation repeals the onerous Waters of the U.S. Rule, and changes the Supplemental Nutrition Program (SNAP) to once again affirm the dignity of work-capable adults. The policies I was able to get into the bill were literally initiated by constituents, issues like Pasture, Rangeland, and Forage crop insurance enhancement, the ARC fix, and swampbuster minimal effects reform. These ideas started with calls to my talk radio town halls and at Coffee with Cramer events and working with my staff in North Dakota. This is what the framers had in mind when they formed the People’s House.”     

Highlights in the Legislation

Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS) Repealed

The amendment, cosponsored by Cramer, repeals the 2015 WOTUS rule and any regulation and policy revised under the rule. Litigation concerning the 2015 rule is ongoing, as well as the Trump Administration’s repeal and replace efforts. Enactment of this amendment will not only repeal a federal government overreach that would directly impact farmers, it will provide a clear message to the courts and certainty to the public.  

Crop Insurance Maintained

The bill maintains the existing structure of crop insurance, rejects proposals to means test or payment limit crop insurance and invests in expanding crop insurance options.  

Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) Improved

Cramer introduced a bipartisan bill in December 2017, H.R. 4654, to fix the ARC program for producers after hearing from corn growers in Logan and Lamoure Counties in North Dakota who were concerned ARC was not properly measuring their losses. Subsequently, producers of other commodities also had concern. The fix directs the Secretary to prioritize Risk Management Agency data (per county) and codifies the program to make payments to producers using the payment rate of the county of the physical location of the base acres of a farm.   

The ARC program is designed to provide support to producers when actual county revenue falls below 86 percent of expected county revenue. The Farm Bill continues the ARC program but makes certain changes to address key concerns. First, the bill mandates the use of actual yields collected by the Risk Management Agency (RMA) where those yields are available. RMA is a more accurate and defensible source of yield data, ensuring payment variability is due to actual differences in yields. Second, the bill requires the Secretary to calculate separate revenues for dryland and irrigated crops to reduce disparities in counties where a blended revenue was previously used. Finally, it requires all program payments be based on the county of the physical location of the farm rather than on the location of the FSA county office where the farm records are kept.  

Price Loss Coverage (PLC) Improved

PLC is designed to provide assistance to producers when market prices fall to critically low levels, below statutory reference prices, and well below the cost of production. The Farm Bill continues PLC but with two key enhancements. First, reference prices are allowed to adjust with improvements in market prices. Specifically, the new “effective reference price” is the greater of (1) 85 percent of the 5-year Olympic average price and (2) the statutory reference price established in the 2014 Farm Bill. In no case can the effective reference price be more than 115 percent of the statutory reference price. Second, producers are allowed to update yields in counties that were in at least 20 weeks of exceptional (D4) drought during the previous yield update period (crop years 2008 through 2012). In the almost 400 counties that qualify, producers are given a one-time opportunity to update yields—using the same methodology as the previous farm bill—based on average yields from 2013 to 2017.  

ARC/PLC Streamlined – “One and Done”  

The House directs the Secretary of Agriculture to change the regulatory requirements from an annual sign up to a “one and done” process.

Sugar Program Maintained

The Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 continues the no-cost sugar policy. Cramer engaged with Members anti-sugar Members on the House floor in defense of current sugar policy. He also sent a Dear Colleague letter fellow legislators outlining the danger for farmers in the Foxx-Davis amendment.

VIDEO: Sugar Reform House Floor Debate

VIDEO: Cramer Discusses Sugar Program  

DOWNLOAD: Read Cramer’s Dear Colleague Letter Here

Swampbuster Reform Added   

Although Congress always intended for minimal wetland thresholds to exist, USDA never followed through. Cramer introduced legislation which, for the first time, requires the USDA, within six months, to define minimal wetlands exemptions for the program, which must be applied before any wetland conversions can be alleged against our producers. Cramer added, “It was hearing from frustrated landowners who were experiencing delays and arbitrary mitigation that started the idea of the minimal effects standards provision.”   

The American Farm Bureau Federation recently commented, “Swampbuster is a conservation compliance program, meaning that farmers aren’t eligible for farm programs or crop insurance premium discounts unless they conserve the wetlands under their stewardship. They lose eligibility if they convert regulated wetlands to farmable land. Started in the 1985 farm bill, the program has helped farmers lower ag losses of wetlands to virtually zero if not a net gain of wetlands. That’s a huge accomplishment. But all is not well with Swampbuster and conservation compliance. Things have gotten out of whack because USDA, in recent years, has strayed far from congressional intent when it created Swampbuster.”  

VIDEO: Cramer Discusses Minimal Effects Standards Provision

VIDEO: Click here to watch Cramer and U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue discuss minimal effects standards during a March press conference.

VIDEO: Click here to watch Cramer and Secretary Perdue discuss ARC during a March press conference.

Pasture, Rangeland, and Forage (PRF) Reform

Cramer worked closely with the Chairman of the Agriculture Committee and USDA officials to bring reform to the Pasture, Rangeland, and Forage weather insurance program after hearing from constituents. Currently, the National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) is responsible for collecting rainfall data that is used in the PRF weather insurance collections. Many North Dakota livestock producers in rural areas believe that data reported by NOAA may not be representative of the actual rainfall received. Required in this provision, the Secretary of the USDA, acting through RMA, will evaluate the coverage of NOAA weather stations in remote areas and consider alternative data collection methods to supplement where NOAA rainfall data may be lacking.        

“This provision was started by constituents. Their phone calls to the office, during my talk radio town halls, and work with my Western North Dakota staff brought attention to needed reforms,” said Cramer.     

Ted Tescher, a rancher from Medora, said, “I feel there is a definite need for more reporting stations to get a more accurate report. The grids are larger than the original ones, so during thunder showers one part of the grid gets a couple good rains and it hurts others in the grid who receive none. Grids are too large. The Congressman did a good job of bringing the main people of this program to our area to hear our concerns. I want to thank him for that.”     

Insurance agencies contacted Cramer and his staff about the concerns on NOAA data. Lavy Steiner, from the Commodity Insurance Agency in Belfield, said, “Pasture, Rangeland and Forage insurance is a critical risk management tool for ranchers. It is one of the only insurance programs available on pasture land, and requires no production reporting on hay or annual forage acres. This makes it a very simplistic program for ranchers. In almost every grid I have analyzed, this program is very successful with a minimum three-to-five year commitment from the producer and helps to offset the additional cost to rent pasture and buy hay in years where precipitation is scarce.”   

MORE HERE: Ranchers Get Answers at RMA Info Session in Dickinson 

The Dickinson Press Reported: Federal insurance program “frustrating"

FSA Guaranteed and Operating Farm Loans Increased

Reauthorizes the Loan Guarantee Program. Farm Ownership and Operating Loan Program loans limits are increased from $700,000 to $1,750,000, enabling farmers and ranchers to maintain, buy, and enlarge down payments and construction on new or existing farms or ranches. 

Cramer met with U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Under Secretary for Farm and Foreign Agricultural Service Bill Northey this month to discuss potential drought challenges as well as access to capital for farmers. Critical drought relief programs for North Dakota farmers including emergency haying and grazing of the Conservation Reserve Program, Livestock Forage Program, and Pasture Rangeland Forage Program crop insurance fall under Northey’s direct authority. In addition, Cramer shared the difficulty some farmers are having with the Morton County FSA office.  

Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program Reformed  

The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) continues to provide supplemental nutrition assistance to Americans in need. The bill seeks opportunity focused on improving recipients’ futures and offering them a springboard out of poverty. This moves away from unenforceable and ineffective work requirements, and partners with individuals who want to improve their lives, supports all eligible adults who want to achieve self-reliance for themselves and their families. For at least 20 hours per week, work-eligible individuals must work, participate in a work program, or participate in SNAP Employment and Training (E&T) – anyone who wants a slot in E&T will have one.

Disaster Programs Maintained  

Maintains the current suite of disaster programs, including the Livestock Forage Program (LFP), Livestock Indemnity Program (LIP), the Emergency Assistance for Livestock, Honey Bees, and Farm-Raised Fish Program (ELAP).  

Interstate Commerce Reinstated

Rep. Steve King (R-IA) successfully added his legislation which prevents States and local jurisdictions from interfering with the production and distribution of agricultural products in interstate or foreign commerce. This issue stems from the State of California and their mandates against the importation of eggs into their state unless the hens are housed in cages specified by California. This amendment can impact other commodity groups and states seeking to participate in trade across state borders.     

Conservation Reserve Program

The 24,000,000 acre cap is raised to 29,000,000 acres, pursuant to the following schedule: 25,000,000 acres in 2019; 26,000,000 acres in 2020; 27,000,000 acres in 2021; 28,000,000 acres in 2022; and 29,000,000 acres in 2023. Rental rates are capped at 80 percent of National Agricultural Statistics Service (NASS) county average and requires NASS to calculate rental rates every year.    

Specialty Crop Block Grant Program Maintained

The farm bill maintains $85 million per year in mandatory funding for Specialty Crop Block Grants, and clarifies performance evaluation language. 

Market Access Program/Foreign Market Development Maintained

Streamlines the Market Access Program (MAP), the Foreign Market Development (FMD) Program, the Technical Assistance for Specialty Crops (TASC) Program, and the Emerging Markets Program (EMP) into one International Market Development Program, restoring funding for FMD and TASC, and establishing overall funding at $255 million per year moving forward.

Wetland Mitigation Banks Funded and Expanded  

The Wetland Mitigation Banking Program is authorized at $10 million in mandatory funding and allows for as much as 5 million a year to be appropriated for the length of the Farm Bill. Mitigation banking is the preservation, enhancement, restoration or creation of a wetland, stream, or habitat conservation area which offsets, or compensates for expected adverse impacts to similar nearby ecosystems. Cramer’s wetland mitigation amendment language was adopted in the conference report in the 2014 Farm Bill, encouraging the Secretary of Agriculture to subject a producer to no higher than a 1-for-1 acreage basis when enhancing, restoring, or creating wetlands.

Research Maintained

The Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018 keeps American agriculture at the forefront of innovation and productivity by authorizing cutting-edge research programs and supporting the nation’s land-grant universities (LGUs) and non-land grant colleges of agriculture.

Electricity Reliability Improved

The Farm Bill encourages proper management for healthy and productive forests. This includes Cramer’s National Forest System Vegetation Management Pilot Program Act of 2017, H.R. 2921, which passed the House on October 31, 2017. The legislation creates a privately funded pilot program to conduct limited and selective vegetation management near utility infrastructure outside of a right-of-way under a gross negligence liability standard.  

Animal Health and Food Supply Protected

The bill ensures the USDA and its partners have the tools necessary to prevent and respond to emerging animal diseases that pose a threat to U.S. economy and food security. This is accomplished by reauthorizing the National Animal Health Laboratory Network for rapid disease diagnosis and establishing a U.S.-only vaccine bank to respond to accidental or intentional introduction of animal disease—foot-and-mouth disease (FMD) in particular.

Farm Loans Improved

Under current law, farm mortgages are not allowed to be passed on to secondary markets if they are over 1,000 acres or $13 million. Secondary markets are a vital component of agricultural lending. The House Farm Bill requires the Farm Credit Administration (FCA) to conduct a study assessing the feasibility of increasing the 1,000 acre limitation to 2,000 acres. The finding of that report would be sent to the committees of jurisdictions in both chambers which would highlight any potential lending risks that may occur.

Flood Prevention Maintained

The Watershed and Flood Prevention Operations program, also known as P.L. 566, authorizes Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) to provide technical and financial assistance to state and local organizations to plan and install measures to prevent erosion, sedimentation, and flood damage and to conserve, develop, and utilize land and water resources.   

Combats Opioid Addiction

Gives the Secretary the authority to help communities combat the current opioid addiction by prioritizing assistance to projects that can bring medical services to those in need.

Rural Broadband Improved

The House Farm Bill makes two significant improvements to the broadband loan program. First, the bill requires that applicants plan for networks that will provide broadband quality service for the lifetime of their loan. New, forward-looking standards will ensure that rural residents will not be stuck with substandard service that is protected from competition for a decade or more.

Second, the bill provides strong incentives for applicants to provide service to underserved communities that have long been too expensive for a provider to reach under the current program. In many rural areas, the costs of financing broadband through infrastructure loans can never be recouped by subscriber fees. The House Farm Bill provides incentives for applicants across several different loan programs that support broadband deployment to reach deeper into rural communities, by providing them grant funding if their projects meet certain density thresholds. This new density test will help to ensure that support is provided to those networks that most.

The House passed Rep. Bob Latta’s (R-OH) amendment that requires the Federal Communications Commission, in consultation with the USDA, to establish a task force for reviewing the connectivity and technology needs of precision agriculture in the United States.   

Cramer recently introduced H.R. 6073, the RURAL Broadband Act, to prioritize federal Rural Utility Service funds to unserved areas of the country. Cramer has been working with Senator Daines to include the bill in the Senate Farm Bill.  

Rural Electrification Improved

The House Farm Bill makes two changes to benefit rural communities and rural electric cooperative ratepayers. First, the bill makes changes to the statute to ensure its long-term continuity of the popular Rural Development Loan and Grant Program (REDLG). Second, it makes improvements to the Guaranteed Underwriter Program to simplify its administration and provide a new source of financing for rural broadband networks.

Pesticide Registration Improved 

The bill includes the Pesticide Registration Enhancement Act (known as PRIA-4), reauthorizing a program in which the pesticide industry pays over $40 million in registration and maintenance fees, supplementing federal appropriations to provide resources for pesticide registration efforts, creates a more predictable evaluation process, and funds worker protection training activities at the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).  

Rural Hospitals Provided More Debt Leverage

Modifies USDA’s Community Facilities Direct Loan (CF) and Grant Program and the Business and Industry Guaranteed Loan Program’s (B&I) eligibility requirement to permit rural hospitals to refinance their existing debt. CF provides low interest loans or grants to develop “essential community” facilities in rural areas (no more than 50,000 residents). Through the B&I program, USDA bolsters the availability of private credit by guaranteeing loans for rural businesses. In addition to public entities, the B&I program considers for profit businesses and cooperatives for these funds (CF program does not).  

The current law does not allow for rural hospitals to apply for these loans solely for the intent of refinancing their debt. This amendment allows refinancing to be a primary reason of application. North Dakota has 38 rural hospitals which would gain eligibility for these loans and grants with this amendment.