By Michelle Key
and Morgan Bryce
Expansion of the USDA’s Conservation Reserve Program, the legalization of hemp for agricultural production and protection of SNAP funding are the three main by-products of the 2018 Farm Bill which Congress passed last week.
Typically renewed on a 5-year basis, the current Farm Bill expired Sept. 30.
The bill is currently awaiting President Donald Trump’s signature.
Expansion of the Conservation Reserve Program
In an NPR interview earlier this month, Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minnesota) discussed the expansion of the Conservation Reserve Program, which “pays a yearly rental payment in exchange for farmers removing environmentally sensitive land agricultural production and planting species that will improve environmental quality.”
The legislation will preserve the program and boost its reach from 24 million to 27 million acres.
Through the 2018 Farm Bill, agricultural production of hemp will be made possible with the removal of its designation as a drug under the Controlled Substances Act.
Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell said in a November interview that he believes that this action will encourage farmers to tap into what he believes could be a significant revenue source in the future.
“I don’t want to overstate this – I don’t know if it’s going to be the next tobacco or not – but I do think it has a lot of potential,” McConnell said. “And as all of you already know, in terms of food and medicine but also car parts. I mean, it’s an extraordinary plant.”
According to Max Runge, an extension economist with the Alabama Cooperative Extension System and Auburn University’s College of Agriculture, said he is uncertain if the hemp portion of the bill will immediately go into effect in Alabama. That may require a vote of the Alabama Legislature.
Earlier this year Attorney General Steve Marshall joined with the leadership of the Alabama Law Enforcement Agency, the Office of Prosecution Services and the Alabama Department of Forensic Sciences to draft and distribute public guidance on the current state of Alabama law on the possession, use, sale or distribution of Cannabidiol, or CBD.
The guidance comes in response to a growing number of inquiries about increasing sales of CBD across the state.
This memorandum is accessible by the public from the Attorney General’s website at ago.alabama.gov.
Following the passing of the 2018 Farm Bill, Marshall’s office released an updated version of the memorandum. An excerpt from the updated version is printed below:
“NOTE: This notice has been updated to reflect recent action by the U.S. Congress regarding cannabidiol (CBD) derived from industrial hemp. On December 12, 2018, the U.S. House of Representatives gave final passage to the Agricultural Improvement Act of 2018i which is expected to be signed into law.
This bill contains a provision legalizing industrial hemp, beyond the existing pilot programs passed by Congress in 2014. As a result of this Congressional action, CBD derived from industrial hemp, with a THC concentration of not more than .3%, can be legally produced, sold, and possessed in the State of Alabama.
However, as stated in the bill, the new federal law will not prevent states from adopting laws to restrict or regulate the production of industrial hemp.
Furthermore, prescription drugs and other consumables containing CBD will continue to be regulated by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The guidance in the rest of the memorandum still applies to CBD derived from marijuana or CBD derived from hemp with above a .3% (three one-thousandths) THC concentration.
To read the rest of the document visit the Attorney General’s website: ago.alabama.gov.
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, also known as “SNAP,” represents more than 70 percent of the farm bill’s total spending.
Heated debate over the legislation’s language pertaining to SNAP eligibility ultimately led to the House-Senate compromise bill which anti-poverty advocates claim saves 1 million or more people from being removed from the program. According to statistics, more than 46 million Americans are enrolled in SNAP.
SNAP funding is vital for Wright’s Market’s “Wright2U” delivery service that provides access to fresh groceries and medical attention for the elderly and homebound in Lee County.
“ Like all other food retailers, a large portion of our business comes from SNAP. We have seen a steady decline in the distribution and redemption of those benefits as the economy has improved and many people have been able to find employment and not have had to rely on the program to make ends meet,” Wright said. “On the Agricultural side of the bill, I am glad to see the provisions put in place to protect our farmers. I have always had great respect for the family farmer, but some of the work I have been involved in over the last few years has grown my respect even more.”
Alabama Congressman Mike Rogers issued the following statement in a press release following the passage of the bill.
“I am proud to vote for the Farm Bill. As a Conferee on the bill, I know firsthand just how important this bill is to our nation. This Farm Bill strengthens the farm safety net for Alabama’s farmers and producers and it provides five years of certainty. America’s farm economy is still struggling, and this bill will be a much-needed shot in the arm.”
“The bill also improves the SNAP (food stamp) program integrity while incentivizing work for those who are on government benefits. The rural development programs in the bill will be great for folks across Alabama who need rural broadband, and the research funding in the Farm Bill is great news for universities like Tuskegee and Auburn. Finally, I am pleased to say language I introduced with Rep. Terri Sewell was included in the bill. This important language helps provide grants for folks with failing wastewater infrastructure.”
Alabama Arise had this to say about the passage of the Farm Bill in a press release.
“The Farm Bill contains good news for struggling families across Alabama and across the country. It protects and strengthens the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, our nation’s most effective anti-hunger program. SNAP has long had bipartisan support, and we commend House and Senate negotiators for continuing that tradition by working together across party lines to protect food assistance.”
“SNAP helps nearly 900,000 Alabamians make ends meet, and we’re pleased that Congress passed a Farm Bill that protects this critical program. We thank Sens. Doug Jones and Richard Shelby and Alabama’s House members for voting to keep food on hundreds of thousands of Alabama tables.”
“We also thank the many Alabamians who stood together to help protect food assistance after the House initially voted for harmful SNAP cuts that would have increased hunger. Their calls and letters to our representatives in Washington were critical in ensuring that SNAP will continue to help feed a range of people in households that struggle to make ends meet, including children, parents, seniors, people with disabilities, and working people with low pay and inconsistent hours.”
For more information or updates on the progress of the bill’s passage, visit agriculture.house.gov/news/.