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October 2018, Volume 24, Number 4

US Farm Bill

Congress failed to approve a five-year farm bill before the 2014 law expired September 30, 2018. Both the House and Senate approved farm bills in June 2018, and they have been negotiating differences since then. For example, the House bill includes new work requirements for recipients of Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) or Food Stamp benefits, while the Senate bill does not.

The House bill would require adults without young children who are 18 to 59 to work or participate in job training for at least 25 hours a week. Currently, most able-bodied adults ages 18 to 49 without dependents must work or be enrolled in job training programs at least 20 hours a week. Some 42 million people received SNAP benefits in 2017.

The two largest area crops are corn and soybeans. In 2016, farmers planted 94 million acres of corn and 83 million acres of soybeans. In 2018, farmers planted over 90 million acres of soybeans and slightly less corn. Over half of US soybeans are exported and used for animal feed for poultry pigs, and cows.

USDA in July 2018 announced up to $12 billion in aid to producers of soybeans, sorghum, cotton, corn, wheat and pork hurt by retaliation for US tariffs. The price of soybeans fell sharply in June 2018 after China, the largest importer, imposed tariffs on US soybeans.

A third of US food crops are pollinated by bees, but honeybees (Apis mellifera) are dying: in 2017, 40 percent of managed honeybee colonies died. The price of renting bees to pollinate almonds and other crops quadrupled between 2004 and 2018 to $190 a colony. In response to colony collapse disorder and other problems with honeybees, farmers are experimenting with more resilient bees, including blue-orchard bees, and self-pollinating crops.