Louisiana Farm Bureau president hopeful congress can pass a farm bill

Neil Melançon / Special to The Chief, Weekly Citizen

The removal of an anti-sugar amendment to the 2018 Farm Bill was cause for some smiles in Louisiana late Thursday.

However, that optimism was short-lived as the House went on to vote down the Farm Bill 198-213 on Friday. The bill was unanimously voted down by Democratic representatives over nutrition supplement funding, as well as the Republican Freedom Caucus, who balked at House Speaker Paul Ryan’s refusal to vote on an immigration bill.

Louisiana Farm Bureau President Ronnie Anderson said while the bill’s failure is disappointing, he remains hopeful positive legislation will get passed this year.

“We still have a chance to get this bill through this year, which will help Louisiana farmers and ranchers by giving them certainty as to government policy,” Anderson said. “That allows them to secure farm loans, as well as having some security going forward."

Louisiana Farm Bureau Associate Commodity Director Kyle McCann said either the bill, as drafted by Rep. Mike Conway, R-Texas, will pass or we’ll see an extension of the current legislation.

“We faced the same thing in 2012 where the Farm Bill was a political football,” McCann said. “We literally went for years with an extension of the previous Farm Bill until the current one was passed in 2014.”

McCann is hopeful a bill will be passed this year as well.

“House leaders will do what they can to appease the House Freedom Caucus before seeing if they can muster some votes from the Democratic side,” he said. “It’s an election year, which always makes more turbulence, but it also adds impetus to get something done so they can have something to show for their constituents.

“However, the immigration bill has more problems than the Farm Bill does, so if the Freedom Caucus keeps hinging their support on that, we may not see anything this year,” McCann added.

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kansas, has signaled that he would like to pass his chamber’s version in early June. Passage there will require 60 votes, so Republican-favored reform of the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) that is in the House version of the bill will unlikely pass the Senate, according to McCann. This disparity, along with the row over immigration, increases the chances of an extension of the old Farm Bill.

“If we have an extension of the old legislation, there are provisions for cotton and dairy reforms that will be included in that extension,” McCann said. “We obviously want a Farm Bill passed, but it would not be the worst outcome if that extension comes to pass.”

Late on Thursday, an amendment that would have opened the U.S. market up to even more sugar imports was defeated by a 141-vote margin. While the amendment was bi-partisan, its defeat was also bi-partisan in voting, which created optimism the bill would be passed the following day.

“The current proposed legislation has no negative amendments,” he said. "We got the best possible bill we could get, so it’s really a shame if it doesn’t get passed.”

Contributed by the La. Farm Bureau Federation