Montana’s two U.S. senators Tuesday said the Senate version of the 2018 Farm Bill so far looks like good news for Montana farmers and ranchers, with funding for crop insurance and ag-research stations and leeway for hemp farming.
U.S. Sen. Steve Daines, R-Mont., spoke with Montana reporters about the measure and said he expects it to pass by next week.
“We’re off to a very good start,” he said. “This farm bill … is helping to provide some certainty for Montana agriculture in these rather difficult and uncertain times.”
If the Senate approves the measure, its next stop will be a House-Senate conference committee, which will hammer out differences between the House and Senate farm bills and get a final version to President Trump’s desk before the current farm bill expires Sept. 30, Daines said.
Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., said he hopes the bill will provide a strong safety net for ag producers, especially in the face of retaliatory tariffs that can drive down commodity prices paid to farmers.
He said he’ll offer an amendment this week to strengthen a crop-insurance program, to make it work better for large, rural states like Montana.
Other proposed amendment to or contents of the bill include:
Funding for SNAP (Food Stamps): About three-fourths of the bill’s funding is money for the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program, formerly known as Food Stamps.
The House version includes a work requirement for able-bodied adults getting Food Stamps; the Senate version does not.
Daines said he supports the House work requirement.
“That will be conferenced with the House bill; we’ll see what comes out for a final, up-and-down vote on the floor,” he said.
Forest-management language: Daines said he’s supporting an amendment to create a pilot project in national forests in Montana and northern Idaho, to settle disputes over timber-harvest proposals by arbitration instead of lawsuits.
He said too many proposed federal timber projects are being tied up or delayed by lawsuits.
“The idea here is recognize there may be disputes about the law,” Daines said. “Let’s look at a pilot program and test this idea of arbitration instead of litigation.”
He said he doesn’t know if the amendment will pass.
Hemp farming: The Senate version would legalize hemp as an agricultural commodity and remove it from the list of controlled substances. Montana then could decide whether it wants to allow hemp cultivation, said Daines, who supports the move.
“Hemp itself has proven to be a valuable cash crop for Montana farmers,” he said. “I don’t know how large the hemp industry could become in Montana, but I want to put that as another option for Montana farmers.”