By Scott Shindledecker
June 27, 2018
U.S. Sen. Steve Daines hopes one of his amendments to the Senate’s proposed farm bill will create economic growth in the sagging timber industry in Northwest Montana.
The Montana Republican hosted a media teleconference Tuesday afternoon on the efforts to pass the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018. The U.S. House last week narrowly passed its version of the bill. The Senate will debate its own version of the farm bill today.
One of Daines’ amendments to the Senate bill calls for pilot arbitration that would allow the Forest Service’s Region 1 to use arbitration two times a year to streamline solutions to objections to timber sales.
“Trial lawyers are winning and Montana people are losing in these lawsuits that are brought by environmental groups,” Daines said. “Litigation is time consuming and expensive. There are 29 timber sales or projects that are being challenged in Montana courts with 20 stopped by injunction.”
Daines said his amendment would “combat red tape and allow for more management on our national forests.”
Daines said he had strong support for the amendment from his party.
“But we are working hard to get some more help from our friends across the aisle,” Daines said in reference to trying to get Democratic senators to support some of those amendments.
The senator also touted that the proposed bill would legalize the production of industrial hemp, which he said would boost and diversify Montana’s agriculture economy.
The Montana Department of Agriculture already has a pilot program for hemp and had crop production for the first time in 2017. The crop can be used to make clothing, paper, construction materials, flour, cosmetics, industrial oil, among other products.
“Hemp is another option for Montana farmers and they need more diversity,” Daines said. “This amendment would remove it from the controlled substance list and legalize it as a commodity.
“Then, we, as a state, can decide what to do with it.”
Daines is the only member from Montana to sit on the Senate Agriculture Committee. He anticipates the farm bill will make it through the Senate by the end of this week before it goes before Congress.
“We are off to a good start,” Daines said. “This helps provide certainty to an industry that needs some.”
U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., also supports the Senate’s proposal.
He said in a statement Tuesday that he would offer a bipartisan amendment to the bill to toughen up the Agriculture Risk Coverage crop insurance initiative. Tester is vowing to use the farm bill “to strengthen the safety net for agricultural producers and to defend Montana farmers and ranchers from the devastating impact of retaliatory tariffs from Canada, China and other nations.”
“This bill provides a safety net when Mother Nature deals us a drought and helps when prices are low in the market,” Tester said. “This bill is particularly important right now because of the tariffs that are causing uncertainty and driving down prices at the farm gate.” Tester said he would speak on the Senate floor today to outline critical provisions within the bill.
Tester said he held seven public listening sessions across Montana in advance of the farm bill debate.
“I sat down with farmers and ranchers across Montana, looked them in the eye and heard their farm bill priorities,” Tester added. “The bill we are debating this week reflects those priorities and does right by the folks who make a living off the land.”
The current farm bill expires Sept. 30.