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U.S. Senate Ag Committee advances 5-year farm bill with Bennet support

Author: Marianne Goodland - June 13, 2018 - Updated: June 13, 2018

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tariffsA Colorado farmer uses a disc harrow to roll corn stubble back into the soil for nutrients for next season. (Getty Images/iStock)

The U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Wednesday gave strong approval to the 2018 farm bill, known as the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018.

The 20-1 vote now moves the bill to the Senate floor. The one “no” vote came from Republican Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa, who raised objections during Wednesday’s hearing on the bill’s inclusion of industrial hemp.

The hearing was intended to allow additional amendments to the bipartisan measure, which Tuesday drew support from Colorado’s senior senator, Democrat Michael Bennet, a committee member.

Bennet was a co-sponsor of an amendment offered by Democratic Sen. Heidi Heitkamp of North Dakota to include trade with Cuba in the bill. That committee adopted the amendment.

Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper has been an advocate for opening relations with Cuba. He traveled to the island nation in February 2017 as part of a delegation on culture and business. Hickenlooper said at the time he hoped for opportunities for Colorado tourism and agriculture.

U.S. exports to Cuba topped $250 million in 2017, largely for chicken, although soybeans and corn were also popular exports. That represents an increase of more than $50 million over 2016.

What didn’t get into the Senate version: Changes to work requirements for recipients in the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP), formerly known as food stamps. The Trump administration has demanded enhanced work requirements for SNAP recipients that one estimate says would negatively impact 7.5 million people on the program.

Republican Sen. Joni Ernst of Iowa had previously sponsored an amendment to add in those changed work requirements, but it wasn’t included in the bill’s draft version and she did not propose it Wednesday.

Grassley’s objections to the farm bill appeared to be largely based on its language around industrial hemp. Grassley, the chair of the Senate Judiciary Committee, said he believed any language around industrial hemp ought not be included in the farm bill, but rather belongs in another bill that would go through his committee.

The language in question is in the bill’s Title X section on hemp production. Its definition of hemp includes cannabinoids, which includes CBD oil, currently used for a variety of medical conditions, especially in children. However, the Food and Drug Administration has not approved those uses.

Grassley argued that CBD oil is not an industrial hemp product. The bill would allow “any snake oil salesman” to market CBD for any use, without assurances on safety. It will put children at risk, Grassley added.

However, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky, who is a member of the ag committee, said the bill incorporated suggestions made by the judiciary committee, the FDA and the Justice Department, including that the Secretary of Agriculture could consult with the Attorney General on state plans regarding hemp production.

The bill, McConnell added, does not make hemp a legal commodity, and it also improves the integrity of the hemp program, to ensure that states and Indian tribes conduct proper oversight over their own hemp programs.

Trade also was an issue for members of the agriculture committee. Several, including Republican Chair Pat Roberts of Kansas, showed continuing concern over the United States’ trade policy, which is in flux as the Trump administration fights with other countries over steel tariffs and the lagging negotiations over the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), which governs trade between the United States, Canada and Mexico.

Trump’s decision to impose tariffs on steel with trading partners has resulted in a backlash against U.S. agriculture, primarily pork. Last week’s G-7 meeting didn’t help. NAFTA was on “shaky footing” before the meeting and “ad hominen attacks” from Trump economic advisers Peter Navarro and Lawrence Kudlow on Canada and its prime minister “are not a particularly appropriate or useful way to conduct relations with other countries,” according to Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland.

The Canadian government recently adopted a resolution to impose tariffs on goods from the United States starting July 1, based on the Trump administration’s decision to impose tariffs on Canadian steel. The products targeted by Canada’s tariffs don’t appear to impact Colorado agriculture.

Mexico is another matter. While its imposition of tariffs on pork from the United States are the biggest concern, a 20 percent tariff on U.S. potatoes could impact Colorado, primarily potatoes grown in the San Luis Valley. Colorado’s department of agriculture has long worked to overcome barriers in the Mexican market for Colorado potatoes.

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland

Marianne Goodland is the chief legislative reporter for Colorado Politics. She's covered the Colorado General Assembly for 20 years, starting off in 1998 with the Silver & Gold Record, the editorially-independent newspaper at CU that was shuttered in 2009. She also writes for six rural newspapers in northeastern Colorado. Marianne specializes in rural issues, agriculture, water and, during election season, campaign finance. In her free time (ha!) she lives in Lakewood with her husband, Jeff; a cantankerous Shih-Tzu named Sophie; and Gunther the cat. She is also an award-winning professional harpist.