December 11, 2018
WASHINGTON, D.C. – Today, U.S. Senator Angus King (I-Maine) voted in favor of the conference report to H.R. 2, the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018, more commonly known as the Farm Bill. The report, which passed by a vote of 87 to 13, includes a number of provisions that Senator King supported that will help Maine’s farmers and rural communities.
“Overwhelming bipartisan votes like today’s don’t come easy – they’re the product of a lot of hard work, compromise, and consensus-building. Fortunately, if there’s one thing that everyone, Republican, Democrat, or Independent, can agree on, it’s that farmers are the backbone of our rural economy and pillars of rural communities across the country,” said Senator King. “Today’s passage of the Farm Bill means a lot to the honey or maple producers who won’t have to put misleading labels on their pure products, and to the potato and blueberry farmers who can continue growing their superior crops – which is only right, because the work these farmers do every day means a lot to the state of Maine. And though it may be called the ‘Farm’ Bill, the fact is that this legislation will have an important effect on rural Maine people from all walks of life through its provisions to support innovation the forest economy and boost rural broadband efforts. The legislation may have taken a lot of negotiation and debate, but in the end, we’re left with a bill that will help a lot of people.”
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.
· SUPPORT INNOVATION FOR DAIRY FARMERS: This amendment, supported by Senator King, 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. The Dairy Business Innovation Act will provide $7 million in grants to state departments of agriculture and other local agricultural leaders to support programs that promote dairy product innovation, process improvement, and marketing.
· 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.
· EXEMPTING SINGLE INGREDIENT PRODUCTS FROM MISLEADING LABELS: A provision in this year’s bill exempts pure, single ingredient foods like honey and maple syrup from requirements to contain an “added sugar” label. Earlier this year, the FDA announced the proposed change to help consumers be aware of the amount of sugar they are consuming, but maple and honey producers expressed concerns that the new labels could mislead consumers into believing that sugar was added after harvesting. Senator King has spoken on the Senate floor against this proposal, and after his push, the FDA announced they would be seeking a revised approach.
· 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). The final bill increases funding to Employment and Training Programs, makes some administrative changes designed to reduce improper payments in the program, and rejects harmful changes to work requirements.
· 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.
· DRASTICALLY INCREASING FUNDING FOR RURAL BROADBAND DEPLOYMENT: This year’s Farm Bill authorizes Congress to appropriate $350 million per year for high-speed internet deployment – a drastic increase from the previous Farm Bill, when Congress was authorized to appropriate $25 million per year for high-speed internet deployment.
· 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.
· REAUTHORIZING COMMUNITY WOOD ENERGY PROGRAM: This program, which expires at the end of 2018, promotes energy security and incentivizes new uses for low-grade and low-value wood by offering competitive grants to assist state and local governments with the costs of installing high-efficiency, biomass-fueled energy systems, such as combined heat and power (CHP). Senator King is a cosponsor of the Community Wood Energy Innovation Act, a bill introduced by Senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.)