WASHINGTON, D.C. ― U.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) joined their colleagues in the Senate to pass the final 2018 Farm Bill – major legislation that will send needed assistance to New Mexico farmers and ranchers, and support every county in the state by protecting the farm safety net and basic social services, while also making strategic investments in broadband access, clean drinking water, rural development, telemedicine and more.
The Farm Bill, which serves as the federal government’s primary tool to provide agricultural funding and set food policy for the next five years, passed the Senate by a vote of 87-13. The bill must now be passed by the U.S. House of Representatives and be signed into law by the president.
The 2018 Farm Bill rejects cuts to the farm safety net and food security programs, preserves conservation programs, and provides certainty for America’s farmers so they can supply the food, fuel, and fiber on which the nation depends. The bill will fuel opportunity in rural America, grows small businesses, expands forest and farmland conservation, offers new opportunities for the local food economy, and supports families working hard to make ends meet.
“I’m proud that Congress worked across the aisle to pass a strong bipartisan Farm Bill that will provide much-needed support for the farmers, ranchers, and families that drive New Mexico’s economy forward. New Mexico agriculture employs 42,000 New Mexicans on more than 24,000 farms generating over $3 billion for our economy, and we secured strong investments for farmers, ranchers, dairy producers, acequias and land grants, Pueblos and Tribes to ensure continued growth and development,” Udall said. “I’m particularly pleased the Farm Bill makes acequias and land grants eligible for technical assistance and infrastructure investments from USDA, and includes my Farmers of Tomorrow Act, which cultivates the next generation of farmers by removing barriers to entry and increasing access to the capital necessary to pursue farming. It also conserves our land, water, and natural resources while preserving essential food security programs, which thousands of families across the state rely on to put food on the table. This Farm Bill secures critical resources to support and sustain New Mexico’s farmers and ranchers – who work tirelessly to feed and fuel our state and nation – with the stability and certainty they deserve.”
“In New Mexico, our farmers, dairy producers, and ranchers help drive the state’s economy and are an integral part of our history,” Heinrich said. “The 2018 bipartisan Farm Bill will provide certainty for rural New Mexico and boost our state’s dynamic agriculture economy. The bill has far reaching impacts that include expanded opportunities for our farmers, protections for our land and water, investments in high-speed internet access in rural areas, and support for important food and nutrition programs. I’m especially pleased the bill includes my provisions to improve the health and resiliency of New Mexico’s forests and watersheds, and strengthen economic development in tribal communities. I’m also proud that we protected SNAP to provide food security for families in New Mexico. We owe it to all New Mexicans to enact legislation that supports job creation and opportunity, and helps families benefit from our growing economy.”
Udall and Heinrich championed several important provisions for New Mexico in the 2018 Farm Bill, including:
Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach: The bill creates the new Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach (FOTO) Program, which combines support for Beginning Farmers and Ranchers with outreach assistance for Socially Disadvantaged and Veteran Farmers to create $435 million in permanent funding – tripling the current investment. Senators Udall and Heinrich are original co-sponsors of S. 2839, legislation which increased the funding set aside for the socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers program.
Beginning Farmer and Rancher Loan Program: The Farm Bill includes The Farmers of Tomorrow Act (S.2685), introduced by Udall. That act levels the playing field by giving new farmers and ranchers with degrees in disciplines other than agriculture and without farm income based tax returns access to capital to purchase or operate a farm or ranch. The Farm Bill also funds education, training, and outreach to this group and gives incentives to landowners in the Conservation Reserve Program to transition land to new farmers and ranchers.
Land Grant Mercedes and Acequias: Udall and Heinrich made Land Grant Mercedes and acequias eligible for funding through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) Program, which will allow the Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) to provide them with technical assistance and infrastructure investments to improve water conservation, water distribution, conservation of surface or groundwater, aquifer recovery, and crop rotation. It also grants acequias, land trusts, and other organizations direct access to NRCS’s Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) by expressly listing them as eligible partners. This will assure acequias can continue to access this successful program.
Support for New Mexico Dairies: The Senate incorporated a Udall amendment which changes the Margin Protection Program to the Dairy Margin Coverage Program and allows for payments to be triggered at a higher margin level. This change will support dairy producers by providing insurance when the difference between the milk sale price and the average feed cost — the margin — falls below a certain dollar amount selected by the producer. In addition, this provision allows for higher coverage options on the first 5 million pounds of covered milk to $9.50 margins (current cap at $8) at similarly affordable premiums and a refund or credit up to $58 million to reimburse dairy operations for net premiums paid under the old program.
Substantially Underserved Trust Areas: Heinrich and Udall championed the effort to allow tribes to refinance broadband and telephone loans borrowed from USDA’s Rural Utilities Service (RUS). This allows communications companies that serve tribal communities in New Mexico, such as Mescalero Apache Telecom Inc. and Sacred Wind Communications, to refinance RUS loans at a lower interest rate. The RUS helps finance improvements to electric, telecommunications, water, and sewer infrastructure in underserved rural and tribal communities. In New Mexico, this could help tribal providers lower interest rates, allowing them to provide improved infrastructure to consumers.
Invests in local food economies: The bill secures permanent mandatory baseline funding for farmers markets, local food systems, and value-added producer grants. The bill for the first time includes mandatory baseline funding for Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentives (FINI), which encourage SNAP participants to purchase fresh fruits and vegetables at farmers markets and other retail locations.
Drought: The Farm Bill adopted a Udall amendment granting flexibility to NRCS to use the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) funding off farmland. This allows partners, such as acequias, irrigation districts and other water users to target EQIP funds to where the greatest water and cost savings can be made, regardless of land or infrastructure ownership, to reduce water consumption. It also expands the use of the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program to address water quantity and to conserve water in order to advance drought mitigation in soil health. The Farm Bill also makes drought a priority, adding it as a purpose to the Regional Conservation Partnership Program.
Grassroots Source Water Protection Program: Reauthorizes funding for Source Water Protection Program (SWPP) at $5 million annually through 2023 at NRCS. The SWPP prevents pollution of surface and groundwater used as the primary source of drinking water by rural residents.
Water Source Protection Program: The bill includes a Heinrich provision that establishes the Water Source Protection Program within the Forest Service. The Water Source Protection Program builds on partnerships between cities, businesses, water utilities, farmers and ranchers, and the Forest Service to provide matching funds for forest health projects on lands that provide water resources for downstream users. In New Mexico, the Santa Fe Water Fund and Rio Grande Water Fund are successful examples of these partnerships. This provision clarifies and enhance the Forest Service’s ability to partner with communities to protect forest watersheds and provide reliable jobs for forest workers.
Watershed Condition Framework: The Forest Service developed the Watershed Condition Framework (WCF) in 2011, but it has never been authorized by Congress. The WCF is a system to evaluate the health of watersheds on national forest lands, identify priority watershed for restoration, develop restoration action plans, implement those plans, and monitor the effectiveness of the restoration projects. This Heinrich provision requires the Forest Service to coordinate with states, private landowners, and the public throughout the process. It also allows an emergency designation of priority watersheds that are newly damaged by catastrophic wildfire without waiting for the regular evaluation cycle.
Collaborative Forest Landscape Restoration Program: The bill includes legislation from Udall and Heinrich to reauthorize this U.S. Forest Service program that encourages collaborative, science-based ecosystem restoration for 5 years and increases funding from $40 million to $80 million.
Regional Conservation Partnership Program: Increases investments in this program to leverage an additional $3 billion in private funding for conservation efforts aimed at water quality, drought, and wildlife habitat and in the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program to protect agricultural lands and wetlands. New Mexico has been one of the most successful applicants to RCPP, securing $17 million in competitive funds in FY18 alone.
Conservation Reserve Program: The bill makes historic progress in addressing water quality by encouraging cover crops, creating a new water quality initiative in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), and prioritizing the protection of drinking water by dedicating at least 10 percent of all conservation dollars to these efforts.
Hemp: Amends the Controlled Substances Act to make hemp production legal and expands the definition of hemp to include cannabinoid oils and extracts. This enacts S. 2667, the Hemp Farming Act, of which Udall is a co-sponsor.
Sage-Grouse and Mule Deer Habitat Conservation and Restoration Act: The bill includes Heinrich’s Sage-Grouse and Mule Deer Habitat Conservation and Restoration Act. The provision directs the secretary of the Interior to develop one or more categorical exclusions, in accordance with NEPA, to allow specified vegetative management activities to improve sage grouse and mule deer habitat. The legislation also includes several limitations on what activities may be included, and where those activities may take place.
Other important provisions of the Farm Bill include:
Growing Opportunities for Farmers
- Provides certainty for farmers and ranchers through improved risk management tools and gives support to expand their businesses, sell their products, and grow a diverse agricultural economy
- Improves risk management options for farmers and dramatically expands coverage for dairy farmers
- Helps veterans pursue careers in agriculture by making risk management tools more affordable, improving access to land and capital, and prioritizing training for veterans
- Strengthens investments in agricultural research to support groundbreaking science that makes farmers more efficient, resilient, and sustainable
- Grows local food economies by providing $500 million in permanent funding – more than double past investments – for farmers markets, local food systems, and value-added production as part of a new Local Agriculture Market program
- Protects crop insurance and expands coverage to new crops, including fruits, vegetables, hop and barley
- Safeguards livestock and poultry from disease outbreaks through investing in detection, response, and recovery, including creation of a national vaccine bank
Conserving Land, Water, and Natural Resources
- Triples mandatory funding for conservation partnerships, which will leverage nearly $3 billion in new private investment in locally led conservation over the next decade
- Improves water quality and soil health by encouraging farmers to plant cover crops, prioritizing the protection of drinking water, and driving climate-smart agriculture practices through a new soil health initiative to sequester more carbon in the soil.
- Secures opportunities for outdoor recreation by adding 3 million new acres to the Conservation Reserve Program and designating 20,000 acres of national forest wilderness.
- Promotes clean energy and efficiency upgrades to help rural small businesses and farmers use renewable energy and create energy installation jobs.
- Safeguards important environmental protections by rejecting dozens of harmful poison pill riders, including provisions that would undermine the Endangered Species Act, weaken pesticide regulations, and allow unaccountable logging on federal lands
Protecting Food Access for Families
- Protects access to food assistance for families in need by avoiding harmful benefits cuts and eligibility changes that would take away food and create obstacles for working families.
- Increases job training opportunities to help SNAP participants find and keep good-paying jobs the right way, while keeping out partisan changes to work requirements.
- Expands access to healthy foods by securing permanent mandatory baseline funding for Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentives, and creating new produce prescription initiatives.
- Establishes a “Farm to Food Bank” initiative to provide healthy, local foods to families in need while reducing food waste.
Investing in Rural Communities
- Expands high-speed internet in rural communities by providing new grants that will target areas most in need and connect communities with modern internet access.
- Fights the opioid crisis through expanded telemedicine and community facility investments to provide critical treatment options for those who suffer from opioid addiction.
- Supports rural emergency medicine by adopting the bipartisan SIREN Act to invest in medical equipment and training for first responders.
- Improves rural drinking water by targeting infrastructure investments to ensure small town water systems are providing clean and reliable tap water.