Senator Steve Daines called the 2018 Farm Bill a win for Montana on a press call Wednesday morning.
"Agriculture is our number one economic driver in Montana," Daines said. "The important outcome of passing the Farm Bill is that it provides certainty for Montana farmers and Montana ranchers in difficult times."
The nearly $900 billion bill sets crop insurance rates, puts food on the table for needy Americans and funds conservation and rural development grants for the next five years. The Senate passed the bill Tuesday and the House followed suit Wednesday. It now heads to President Donald Trump’s desk for ratification.
For the first time, the Farm Bill legalizes industrial hemp.
"We've been getting some good feedback from Montana farmers about the potential of hemp in Montana, but of course, that’s not a drug," Daines said.
The Bozeman Republican says he doesn’t see hemp’s legalization as a precursor to legalizing medical or recreational marijuana at the federal level.
Daines said the Farm Bill also includes a number of forest management reforms, like expanding Good Neighbor Authority to tribes and counties. Good Neighbor Authority currently allows states to do projects on federal public lands if the state is doing similar work on its land, too. Montana offered its first Good Neighbor Authority timber sale on U.S. Forest Service land earlier this year.
"I strongly believe that allowing a stronger voice of local government and tribes in the process of forest management is a good thing," Daines said, "and that's something I worked with Senator [Amy] Klobuchar (D, MN) to get that passed."
The 2018 Farm Bill also maintains exemptions to public input on forest thinning projects smaller than 3,000 acres, and creates new exemptions for projects in sage grouse and mule deer habitat up to 4,500 acres.
Daines had called for more sweeping forest management reforms that didn’t make it into the final bill; like simplifying environmental impact statements to “yes” or “no” recommendation, and reworking how lawsuits against forest management projects are handled.
"That's going to be an ongoing battle to continue to streamline the process, allow us to be better stewards of our national forests," Daines said. "Because either we manage our forests or they're going to manage us. So there's more work to do in the area of forest management."
Daines also lamented that stricter work requirements for people who receive Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program benefits, or food stamps, were also struck from the final bill.
"Sometimes you win some, sometimes you lose some, but at the end of the day we need to get the Farm bill passed on behalf of Montana farmers and ranchers," Daines said. "SNAP is an important safety net for many Montanans, so that's why I voted yes."
Daines says the 2018 Farm Bill also includes improvements for rural broadband, secures funding for agriculture research stations across the state and supports conservation programs for farmers and ranchers.
Montana’s lone congressman, Republican Greg Gianforte, voted in favor of the nearly $900 billion bill.
Gianforte spoke on the House floor ahead of the vote.
"This Farm Bill gives our farmers and ranchers a strong safety net that protects them against the impact of natural disasters and unpredictable, unfair trade practices of other countries," he said.
Gianforte said the bill protects Montana sugar beet growers and producers, supports agricultural research services, offers grants for rural emergency services and improves rural broadband.
Democratic Senator Jon Tester also voted in favor of the bill.