Last Friday, the Senate Agriculture Committee released draft text for the Senate version of the 2018 Farm Bill.  S. 3042, the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018, has bipartisan support and received near unanimous approval of the Senate Agriculture Committee.  

The 2018 Farm Bill authorizes significant investments in rural economic development.  The Senate version includes language that establishes a minimum broadband service speed for projects funded by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA).  All projects funded by the USDA must provide a minimum broadband speed of 25 megabites per second (Mbps) downstream and 3 Mbps upstream.  This language modernizes the USDA’s standard of broadband service to reflect the standard observed by the FCC.  In addition, the bill authorizes a multitude of funding and technical assistance programs to support rural broadband deployment.

S. 3042 will authorize new funding for forest management activities, and modernize regulation to improve forest resiliency on federal land.  The bill establishes a grant program for state foresters to carry out fuel reduction projects on federal and non-federal land.  The program is funded at $20 million annually through 2023.  In addition, the bill establishes the Water Source Protection Program to facilitate watershed restoration projects.

On Wednesday, the 2018 Farm Bill secured passage in the Committee by a 20-1 vote.  Committee Democrats and Republicans alike supported the bill and praised Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) and Ranking Member Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan) for negotiating a bipartisan Farm Bill.  Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) was the lone nay-vote.  Senator Grassley opposed the bill for its commodity programs and provisions that would legalize industrial hemp.

All 21 members of the panel were in attendance, including Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky). Senator McConnell is a strong supporter of the bill’s provisions to legalize the industrialization of hemp which he believes could be the next successful cash crop for Kentucky growers.  Senator McConnell pledged to bring the bill to the Senate Floor for a vote before the week-long July 4th recess.

The panel unanimously approved a manager’s amendment that contained 66 proposed amendments to the 2018 Farm Bill.  The Committee also considered several standalone amendments to the bill’s twelve titles.  Unfortunately, there is no language in S. 3042 to raise the population cap to 50,000 or standardize the multiple definitions of “rural” across the bill’s twelve titles.