Udall, Heinrich Announce Major Wins for Young Farmers and Ranchers, Dairies, and Tribes in Farm Bill

Farm Bill also addresses drought, protects rural drinking water, and promotes conservation and good forestry practices

WASHINGTONU.S. Senators Tom Udall (D-N.M.) and Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) joined a bipartisan group of colleagues in the Senate to pass the 2018 Farm Bill – major legislation that supports New Mexico farmers and ranchers, and helps every county in the state by protecting the farm and social safety net, while making strategic investments in broadband, clean energy, clean drinking water, rural economic development, telemedicine, and much more.

The Senate Farm Bill does not cut the farm safety net, conservation or food security programs and provides certainty for America’s farmers so they can provide the food, fuel, and fiber on which the nation depends. This bill fuels opportunity in rural America, grows small businesses on Main Street, expands forest and farmland conservation, offers new opportunities for the local food economy, and supports families working hard to make ends meet.

“New Mexico is a rural state, and our agricultural sector is of one our greatest strengths,” said Udall.  “I’m pleased to have secured investments in the 2018 Farm Bill for New Mexico farmers and ranchers, dairy producers, irrigation districts, tribes and acequias. These groups represent the lifeblood of our rural communities.  The Senate’s bipartisan bill provides certainty for farmers and livestock producers and invests in our rural communities with strategic investment in broadband and telemedicine. And it also conserves our land, water, and natural resources and provides food security for families in New Mexico and across the nation.” 

“Farmers, dairy producers, and ranchers help drive New Mexico’s economy and have shaped our state’s 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 reauthorizes federal funding for important programs including food and nutrition, soil and water conservation, and rural development, and makes investments in rural broadband access and expands renewable energy for workforce development in rural areas. I’m especially pleased the bill includes my provisions to improve the health and resiliency of New Mexico’s forests and watersheds, strengthen rural development in tribal communities, and preserve tribal seeds – and that we protected SNAP from the harmful changes proposed in the House Farm Bill. We owe it to all New Mexicans to enact legislation that supports job creation and opportunity and helps families benefit from our growing economy.”

The Farm Bill is the federal government’s primary agricultural funding and food policy tool, passed by Congress every five years.  The Senate’s bipartisan bill passed 86 to 11.  The U.S. House of Representatives passed its own version of the Farm Bill on June 21, 2018, along party lines, 213 to 211.  The Senate and House must now vote to establish a conference committee to resolve the differences between the two bills.  The current Farm Bill expires September 30, 2018.

Udall and Heinrich fought for important provisions in the bill for New Mexico, including:

- Socially Disadvantaged Farmer and Rancher Program: Reauthorizes and reforms the program, which funds education, training, and outreach to socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.  This bill increases the funding set aside for this group from 5% to 15%, expands the program to forestry and makes Veterans eligible. Udall and Heinrich are original co-sponsors of the legislation, S. 2839.

- Beginning Farmer and Rancher Loan Program:  The Farm Bill included 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 Conservation Reserve Program to transition land to new farmers and ranchers.

-Acequias: Udall and Heinrich secured a provision to make acequias eligible for grants and technical assistance from conservation and environmental programs through the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) to increase agricultural water efficiency and further conservation of soil, water, and other natural resources.

- Dairies: The Senate incorporated a Udall amendment which changes the Margin Protection Program for dairy to allow for payments to be triggered at the $5 margin level instead of $4. This change will support dairy producers by providing insurance for 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. 

- 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 Winds 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.

- Drought: The Farm Bill adopted a Udall amendment granting flexibility to NRCS to use the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) funding off farm land.  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 finally, 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 $25 million annually through 2023 at NRCS. The SWPP prevents pollution of surface and ground water used as the primary source of drinking water by rural residents.

- Water Source Protection Program: Establishes the Water Source Protection Program within the Forest Service. The bill includes a Heinrich provision that 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 $1 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: Adds 1 million new acres to the program and prioritizes water quality, wildlife habitat, and grasslands of special significance.

- Public health and animal welfare:  Turns into law U.S.D.A. guidance for use of M-44 sodium cyanide capsules to control predators to protect pets and people, especially children, from injury.

- 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. 

- Tribal Seeds and Traditional Foods: Includes a Heinrich-Udall amendment that directs the Government Accountability Office to conduct a study of marketplace fraud of traditional foods and tribal seeds and study the availability and long-term viability of tribal seeds. 

- 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:

- 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 Agricultural Risk Coverage to better support farmers.

- Strengthens investments in agricultural research to support groundbreaking science that makes farmers more efficient, resilient, and sustainable.

- Encourages farmers to plant cover crops that improve soil health and water quality by removing barriers in crop insurance, and providing new conservation incentives. 

- Permanently protects farmland and restores wetlands through new investments in conservation easements.

- Protects against wildfires by expediting forest health treatments across federal, state, and private ownership and focusing federal resources to reduce hazardous fuels on the lands closest to homes and infrastructure.

- Designates 25,000 new acres of national forest land as wilderness.

- Expands high speed internet in rural communities by providing new grants that will 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.

- Promotes clean energy and efficiency upgrades to help rural small businesses and farmers use renewable energy, which lowers utility bills and supports energy installation jobs.

- Adds new support for veterans in agriculture by making risk management tools more affordable, improving access to land and capital, and prioritizing training for veterans.

-  Makes key improvements to protect the integrity of nutrition assistance, while still preserving critical food access for millions of families. 

- Provides $40 million for the Voluntary Public Access program to encourage landowners to allow public recreation on their land.