After much time and deliberation, H.R. 2419, the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 became law on May 22, 2008. A congressional news release urged the government to "ensure that the entire farm bill is enacted into law swiftly" after clerical errors occurred involving the trade title. The 5-year bill totaling approximately $300 billion is set to expire in 2012.
Between the time this article was written at the end of May until its publication in the July issue of Ag News & Views, you may have noticed that Title IX (the energy title) has received attention. A total of a billion dollars was set aside to fund all programs associated with the energy title, including the Biomass Crop Assistance Program, the Biodiesel Education Program and the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP). It is no surprise that the farm bill once again included ethanol and the energy title, but what else did it include?
Title X: The Horticulture and Organic Agriculture Title
Many people are excited as the 2008 Farm Bill is the first ever to include a title solely focused on fruit and vegetable production. At the top of the list is the Farmers' Market Promotion Program which received $33 million to provide competitive grants to improve direct producer-to-consumer marketing opportunities. This title also includes funding to support organic farmers and beekeepers, and emphasizes the need for research concentrating on Colony Collapse Disorder in honeybees.
Title V: The Credit Title
Farmers and ranchers are now able to apply for more credit. The farm ownership loan and operating loan limits have been expanded from $200,000 to $300,000. Also of note is the adjustment in the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Down Payment Loan Program. Interest rates have been fixed at 1.5 percent or 4 percent below the regular direct farm ownership loan interest rate, which is typically charged at a rate no less than 4 percent. In addition, the maximum allowable sales price is $500,000 versus the previous $250,000; and the loan can now be held for 20 years.
Moreover, the 2008 Farm Bill placed a high priority on conservation (Title II). Programs that preserve natural resources received an increase in total spending of $7.9 billion. Water quality and resources are also an important portion of this title, plus the CRP program will be enrolling 32 million additional acres into the program between 2010 and 2012.
Other noteworthy topics in the 2008 Farm Bill include the USDA and the Dept. of Homeland Security joining forces to create a biosecurity communication center to help prevent agro-terrorism and potential animal disease emergencies. This year's farm bill also includes mandatory Country of Origin Labeling (COOL) for meat and produce, prohibition of the closure or relocation of Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices for two years, a direct payment eligibility farm income cap at $750,000 and a push to help strengthen the U.S. dairy industry.
These are just a few highlights of the 2008 Farm Bill. If you have specific questions or concerns on how this might affect your operation, please contact your consultation team economist or visit agriculture.house.gov for a fact sheet version of the 2008 Farm Bill or agriculture.house.gov/inside/Legislation/110/FB/Conf/CRlang.pdf for the complete text of the law.