U.S. agriculture was closely watching a congressional omnibus appropriations bill this week that contains a number of provisions connected to farms. The $1.3 trillion federal spending bill was passed by Congress and signed into law (though somewhat reluctantly due to its dollar figures) by President Donald J. Trump on March 23.
“The omnibus spending plan…contains a number of our priorities at USDA. Fixing the so-called ‘grain glitch’ 199A problem is simply an issue of fairness. We should not be picking winners and losers through the federal tax code by favoring one side over another. Additionally, improving the way we fund wildfire suppression will help us better manage our forests,” said Sonny Perdue, U.S. Secretary of Agriculture. “If we ensure that we have adequate resources for forest management, we can mitigate the frequency and severity of future fire seasons. Increased support for broadband Internet access is in line with Administration goals and will be an important boost as we look to improve the economy in rural America. Finally, the omnibus clears away red tape for participants in conservation programs by exempting them from having to obtain SAM and DUNS numbers. These were designed for billion-dollar government contractors, not everyday farmers trying to support their families.”
The omnibus bill includes provisions on:
- Comprehensive Environmental Response, Compensation & Liability Act (CERCLA) reporting: A provision would relieve livestock producers of the emissions reporting requirements under CERCLA, protecting 200,000 farms and ranches around the country. Many livestock organizations have been urging affiliates and members to support stand-alone legislation in the House and Senate that would also exempt agricultural producers from CERCLA reporting requirements.
- Electronic logging devices: The bill includes a provision that would grant livestock haulers an exemption from ELDs until September 30, 2018. A further delay will provide the Federal Motor Carrier Safety Administration (FMCSA) more time to educate our livestock haulers on the ELDs while industry works on solutions to the current Hours of Service rules that do not currently work for those truckers driving livestock across the nation. In September of 2017 allied groups petitioned the Department of Transportation for ELD waiver and asked Congress to support one-year delay of ELD implementation for livestock haulers. In November of 2017 a 90-day waiver from ELD implementation was secured. In March of 2018 there was another successful petition for 90-day wavier from ELD implementation.
- Section 199A: The Tax Cuts and Jobs Act passed in December of 2017 was meant to spur economic growth across the entire American economy, including the agriculture sector, and its positive results can already be felt. However, the unintended consequences of Section 199A, originally designed to preserve benefits for cooperatives and their patrons, disadvantaged the independent operators in the same industry. Many members of the agriculture community began to raise questions about the potential market effects on cooperatives and independent grain-related businesses. The solution passed by Congress, to equalize federal tax treatment of cooperatives and non-cooperates, is overwhelmingly supported throughout the agriculture community.
- Broadband funding: According to the Federal Communications Commission, 80% of the 24 million American households that do not have reliable, affordable high-speed Internet are in rural areas. The Omnibus bill included $600 million in appropriated funding for a new pilot grant and loan combination program, administered by the USDA, to provide broadband to under-served rural and tribal areas. This investment will leverage nearly $1 billion in total new rural broadband projects.
- Additionally, the FY18 Omnibus included robust funding levels for rural infrastructure. The $1 billion in allocated funds will equate to $4.7 billion more rural infrastructure projects than were funded last year. The total FY18 investment in rural communities’ infrastructure through USDA programs will total $13.5 billion. Finally, the Forest Service will also receive a total of $449 million in appropriations for the rehabilitation of its infrastructure, such as roads, bridges and dams.
- The bill includes full funding — $300 million — for the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative that has a significant impact on Ohio and agriculture in the state.
Colin Woodall, Senior Vice President of Government Affairs for the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association (NCBA), was pleased with the bill.
“The omnibus spending bill includes a number of positive developments for cattlemen and women, including language that would prevent 200,000 farms and ranches from being regulated like toxic waste sites, delay the implementation of electronic logging devices for livestock haulers for another six months, and provide a critical fix for wildfire funding that also provides expedited authority to implement much-needed vegetation management on federal lands,” Woodall said. “We are also glad to see refinements to the tax code that address the 199A issue. NCBA and our affiliates have been working closely with Congress to ensure the spending bill addresses issues of concern for U.S. ranchers and beef producers, and we are glad to see our policy priorities reflected in the legislation.”
National Farmers Union (NFU), a family farm organization, recently opposed the proposed changes to the 199A tax provision. Its members passed a special order of business in support of Section 199A due to its value in improving the livelihood of farm families and in strengthening rural communities.
“Farmers Union is deeply disappointed that Congress included harmful modifications to Section 199A in this must pass legislation. Reverting back to Section 199, in light of double-digit corporate tax relief, leaves farmers and their cooperatives worse off than prior to the passage of the Tax Reform and Jobs Act,” said Roger Johnson, NFU president. “There were meaningful bipartisan compromises to remedy challenges associated with 199A that would have ensured farmers and cooperatives were not worse off and that small private elevators were not disadvantaged. Those compromises were disregarded in favor of corporate interests.
“Further, the Congressional Budget Office projects that these modifications in the omnibus would raise $100 million for the federal government, which will come out of the pockets of farmers and their cooperatives. Congress can and should do better for farm families and rural communities.”