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Jonathan Knutson/Agweek

Figuring out the 2018 version of the farm bill

GRAND FORKS, N.D. — There's considerable debate over whether federal agricultural subsidies are a good thing. But everyone agrees that the federal farm bill, including the 2018 version, has a huge impact on U.S. agriculture, Ron Haugen said.

And there's also widespread agreement that the 700-page farm bill is complex and complicated, said Haugen, North Dakota State University Extension farm management specialist.

Haugen provided a farm bill update Monday, Oct. 28, in Grand Forks at the annual Extension Outlook Conference for Agricultural Lenders. About 90 ag bankers from northeast North Dakota and northwest Minnesota attended.

"The 2018 Farm Bill tweaked the 2014 Farm Bill. But there are some changes you really need to be aware of," Haugen said.

The farm bill is the centerpiece of federal food and agricultural policy. A new farm bill has been approved every five to seven years since 1933. The current farm bill, known as the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, was approved late last year.

The farm bill is expected to allocate an annual average of $86.72 billion from 2019 to 2018, Haugen.

Of that $86.72 billion, nutrition programs will account for an annual average of $66.38 billion, federally subsidized crop insurance for an annual average of $7.79 billion, commodities an annual average of $6.14 billion and conservation an annual average of $5.97 billion.

It's widely agreed in agricultural circles that tying farm programs to nutrition, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, the updated version of food stamps, provides needed support from urban politicians for crop insurance, commodities and conservation spending that farmers want.

Haugen agreed with that assessment. "I don't believe we'd have a farm bill" if it didn't include the nutrition spending, Haugen said.

Though the new farm bill doesn't involve fundamental changes in U.S. ag policy, it contains changes that farmers and their lenders should understand, he said.

Haugen said the many changes include:

• Limits on loans from the Farm Service Agency, an arm of the U.S. Department of Agriculture, have increased.

• The Margin Protection Program offers higher coverage for dairy producers.

• Hemp was legalized.

• Hoof and mouth disease vaccine was authorized.

• Farmers can now opt out of Agricultural Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage, the two main safety net programs in the farm bill, after two years.