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June 28, 2018

Senate Passes Farm Bill With King-Backed Provisions to Boost Rural Maine Economy

Legislation includes sections helping Maine farmers, creating new opportunities for forest economy and modernizations for rural broadband.

WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) voted in favor of H.R. 2, the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018, more commonly known as the Farm Bill. The legislation, which passed tonight by a vote of 86 to 11, includes a number of provisions that Senator King supported that will help Maine

“The Farm Bill is a critical piece of legislation that affects farmers, consumers, and people in rural communities throughout Maine and across the nation,” said Senator King. “This year’s legislation includes important provisions for Maine farmers, ranging from protections for our dairy farmers to a reevaluation of the formula used to support the important Cooperative Extension program. In addition, the bill also creates new opportunities for Maine’s forest economy, continues funding for essential nutrition programs, and makes much-needed improvements to rural broadband programs that will help rural regions grow and compete in an increasingly digital world. The importance of this bill is reflected in the overwhelmingly bipartisan nature of its passage – which is in itself a resounding show of support for our nation’s agricultural producers and rural residents.”

This year’s Farm Bill includes several major victories supported by Senator King that will directly benefit Maine if they remain in the final bill signed by the President, including:

  • EVALUATING AND MODERNIZING THE FORMULA USED BY USDA TO SUPPORT COOPERATIVE EXTENSION PROGRAMS: Senators King and Susan Collins (R-Maine) successfully included an amendment that directs USDA to use the 2017 Census of Agriculture to better understand the changing needs of agriculture and rural communities. Specifically, this aims to help Cooperative Extension programs better address the challenges facing small and diverse farms and ranches, veteran farmers and ranchers, value-added agriculture, direct-to-consumer sales, and specialty crops. Despite massive shifts in agriculture in recent years, this funding formula has not been evaluated in decades.
  • SUPPORTING DAIRY FARMERS This amendment will establish regional initiatives to support innovation for Maine dairy businesses, foster the research and development of new dairy products and support new dairy farmers. Last April, Senator King cosponsored the DAIRY PRIDE Act, bipartisan legislation that would protect the integrity of dairy products and require that non-dairy products not be labeled with dairy terms like milk, yogurt and cheese.
  • CREATING OPPORTUNITIES FOR NEXT GENERATION OF FARMERS: This year’s Farm Bill includes language from the Next Generations in Agriculture Act. Senator King is a cosponsor of this legislation, which creates permanent mandatory funding for education, training, and outreach to beginning farmers and ranchers by developing a new Farming Opportunities Training Outreach program, as well adding new authority for a National Beginning Farmer and Rancher Coordinator and establishing new roles to help beginning farmers access USDA programs.
  • PROTECTING NUTRITION PROGRAMS: Unlike in the version of the Farm Bill passed by the House of Representatives, the Senate bill does not jeopardize important nutrition program like SNAP. Additionally, the legislation reduces red tape and increases support for seniors by extending certification periods in SNAP and the Commodity Supplemental Food Program (CSFP).
  • CONTINUING SUPPORT AND RESEARCH FOR SPECIALTY CROPS: Maine’s key crops, including blueberries and potatoes, are viewed as “specialty crops” by USDA. This legislation continues important investments in Specialty Crop Block Grants and the Specialty Crop Research Initiative, and in doing so, bolsters research, pest management efforts and initiatives to improve competitiveness in the global market.

The legislation also includes several additional King-backed victories that benefit Maine’s rural economy and environment, including:

  • SUPPORT FOR ENGINEERED TIMBER: Key provisions of the Timber Innovation Act, which Senator King cosponsored along with Senator Collins, are included in the bill. This language would accelerate the research and development of cross laminated timber and other engineered wood for use in construction projects and also provide grants for such projects. This legislation, along with other efforts to find new opportunities for the forest economy, is a key part of Senator King’s economic vision to grow Maine’s rural communities.
  • MODERNIZING RURAL BROADBAND PROGRAMS: The bill includes provisions from two bills that Senator King cosponsored to advance his Rural Broadband Roadmap. The B-CROP Act (S.1676) modernizes the USDA Broadband Loan Program into a combination grant/loan program and the Precision Agriculture Connectivity Act (S.2343) promotes cooperation between the USDA and FCC in identifying gaps in broadband coverage on agricultural lands. The bill also increases the statutory minimum broadband service definition for the Broadband Grant and Loan Program to 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload, matching a regulatory change which Senator King pushed for in a May 2016 letter.
  • REAUTHORIZING NORTHERN BORDER REGIONAL COMMISSION: The legislation reauthorizes the NRBC through 2023, based on legislation authored by Senators King and Collins. In addition to reauthorizing the NRBC, the legislation establishes a state capacity building grant program that will help develop projects that support business retention and expansion, access to high-speed broadband, critical infrastructure development, and job creation throughout the region.
  • CONSERVING NATURAL ECOSYSTEMS: The bill funds and improves upon the Regional Conservation Partnership Program (RCPP), which is administered by the USDA’s Natural Resources Conservation Service. In December 2016, the RCPP awarded a $6 million grant to a Maine partnership led by the Nature Conservancy to help private forestland owners reduce the impacts that flooding has on road networks and restore more than 250 miles of fish habitat in northern and eastern Maine.
  • ENSURING FAIRNESS IN FEDERAL BUYING OF FOREST PRODUCTS: The legislation includes a King-backed provision that requires federal agencies to accept more methods of sustainably harvested forest products. In June 2016, Senator King led a letter urging the Department of Energy to support all forest certification standards, as the Department of Agriculture does.

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