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D.C. Update: Ending 2018 with a New Farm Bill, New NRCS Leadership, and a Partial Government Shutdown

January 3rd, 2019

D.C. Update: Ending 2018 with a New Farm Bill, New NRCS Leadership, and a Partial Government Shutdown

After much hard work and painstaking negotiation amongst Agriculture Committee leadership and their staff, there was a flurry of Farm Bill activity in December culminating with the signing of the 2018 Farm Bill on Dec. 20. Additionally, Matthew Lohr was appointed as the new Natural Resources Conservation Service Chief, and the federal government partially shut down without an agreement on the budget.

2018 Farm Bill Signed into Law

After months of negotiation by House and Senate Agriculture Committee leadership and staff, the week of Dec. 10 was a whirlwind for the passage of the 2018 Farm Bill: the text of the conference report was released on Monday evening, followed closely by a vote of 87-13 in the Senate on Tuesday, and a vote of 369-47 in the House on Wednesday. The bill was then signed into law on Thursday, Dec. 20.

For more information about AFT’s priorities in the 2018 Farm Bill, see our recent blog post.

NRCS Chief Matthew Lohr Appointed

On Dec. 3, USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue announced the appointment of Matthew Lohr as the new chief of the NRCS. Chief Lohr is a fifth-generation farmer from the Shenandoah Valley where he and his family grow soy, barley, and corn, and raise poultry and a small herd of beef cattle. Prior to his appointment, Chief Lohr served three terms in the Virginia House of Delegates from 2006-2010 and served as Virginia’s Commissioner of Agriculture and Consumer Services from 2010-2013.

At a recent meeting with conservation partners, Chief Lohr expressed his pride in having put together a Conservation Easement Task Force while serving as the Virginia Commissioner of Agriculture, and described the conservation easement on his own farm as “one of the things [he’s] most proud of.”

Also this month, Acting NRCS Chief Leonard Jordan retired after a 42-year tenure with the agency. AFT thanks Acting Chief Jordan for his commitment to advancing conservation and wishes him well in all his future endeavors.

Federal Government Partially Shuts Down

After extending federal funding from Dec. 7 to Dec. 21 to allow more time for negotiations, a final Congressional budget deal remained elusive. Border wall funding was the major sticking point, with the Administration holding firm on demands for $5 billion in funding for wall construction. While several agencies do have funding legislation for the entire fiscal year, the Department of Agriculture among several other agencies remain in limbo. Some activities of the USDA will remain in effect, including services from local Natural Resources Conservation Service offices. Additional detail about the USDA’s continuing activities is posted here.

Looking Ahead

The new Congress will begin its session in January with the seemingly intractable issue of finalizing federal funding and reopening the government at the forefront. Once that happens, the USDA can begin to work on implementing the 2018 Farm Bill. Congressional committee assignments are expected in mid to late January, after which time legislating on a variety of other topics will begin in earnest.

AFT looks forward to working with partners, USDA, and the new Congress to continue to save the land that sustains us by protecting farmland, promoting sound farming practices, and keeping farmers on the land in 2019. In the coming year, we plan to share additional updates on our policy work to: