WASHINGTON – Today, the Senate Agriculture Committee advanced bipartisan legislation that includes Virginia priorities championed by U.S. Sens. Mark R. Warner and Tim Kaine (both D-VA). The 2018 Senate Farm Bill includes Warner-Kaine sponsored bills to increase Chesapeake Bay funding, legalize industrial hemp production, and protect Virginia public lands. As President Trump’s trade war continues to escalate, it also includes other technical measures that will help support and protect Virginia farmers. The bill passed out of committee on a bipartisan 20-1 vote and now awaits full consideration on the Senate floor.
“We are pleased that the Senate Ag committee passed a Farm Bill that includes key measures we’ve introduced to help Virginia continue Chesapeake Bay clean-up efforts, expand farm conservation, and preserve some of our most cherished public lands,” said the Senators. “This bipartisan bill would finally end an outdated ban on hemp production that has held back Virginia farmers from taking part in this emerging market. And it protects Virginia commodities like dairy and cotton while maintaining funding for nutrition assistance that Virginia families depend on. We will continue working with our colleagues so that this bill receives an expeditious vote on the Senate floor and is signed into law.”
Warner-Kaine sponsored bills in the FY18 Farm Bill include:
· Chesapeake Bay Farm Bill Enhancements Act: a bill which makes technical changes to the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP) intended to bring more federal funding into the Chesapeake Bay watershed. The Farm Bill doubles funding for RCPP from $100 million to $200 million providing farmers with the tools they need to implement effective conservation practices within the Bay watershed. These changes will improve sustainability across the region and result in a cleaner, healthier Chesapeake Bay.
· Hemp Farming Act: a bill that would remove hemp from the federal list of controlled substances, allowing Virginia farmers to grow and sell the plant as an agricultural commodity. States would be given authority to regulate hemp, and hemp researchers will be able to apply for USDA grants. Hemp farmers would also be eligible to collect crop insurance under this provision.
· Virginia Wilderness Additions Act: a bill that designates specified lands in George Washington National Forest in Virginia as part of the Rough Mountain Wilderness area and the Rich Hole Wilderness area, adding those lands to the National Wilderness Preservation System. This provision adds a total of 5,600 acres of wilderness area within the George Washington National Forest in Bath County.
· Pet and Women Safety (PAWS) Act: a bill that expands existing federal domestic violence protections to include threats or acts of violence against a victim’s pet, and provides grant funding to programs that offer shelter and housing assistance for domestic violence victims with pets. The Farm Bill authorizes $3 million a year for FY2019-2023 for a grant program that will provide emergency and transitional housing assistance for victims of domestic violence and their pets.
Agriculture is Virginia’s largest private industry, with an economic impact of $70 billion annually that provides more than 334,000 jobs in the Commonwealth. President Trump has targeted imports from some of the United States’ closest allies, sparking the announcement of retaliatory tariffs that will hit key Virginia agricultural exports. Most recently, Mexico announced it will be placing a 20 percent tariff on pork imports, a step that will directly hurt Virginia farmers who exported roughly $68 million in pork to that country last year.
In the wake of President Trump’s ongoing trade war, the Farm Bill includes a measure that will revamp existing trade promotion programs and authorize $6 million in new funding for trade promotion activities. Trade Promotion is a technique used by the United States to pursue trade agreements that support and create U.S. jobs while helping American manufacturers, service providers, farmers and ranchers increase U.S. exports and compete in a highly competitive, globalized economy.
Sens. Warner and Kaine added, “President Trump should play close attention to the way the Senate is trying to lend a hand to some of the same people that will be hurt by his irresponsible trade war. Instead of picking fights with some of our closest allies, he should work with us to help pass legislation that will improve the livelihood of Virginia farmers and open new markets where they can sell their products.”
In addition, the bill includes measures to protect the U.S. dairy and cotton industry. It streamlines a program that allows dairy producers to insure margins—the difference between the prices of milk and feed—and increases its funding. The bill also makes cotton once again eligible to participate in federal crop insurance programs, which are used by farmers to protect themselves against either the loss of their crops due to natural disasters, or the loss of revenue due to declines in the prices of agricultural commodities. Livestock producers also receive assistance through a new program authorized by this bill that will give USDA the authority to operate a disease and disaster prevention program and a vaccine bank, including for foot and mouth disease.
For more information on the FY18 Farm Bill, click here.