Sen. John Hoeven - The Farm Bill and Indian Country

Indian Country makes final push for Farm Bill on Capitol Hill

By Acee Agoyo

Update: The House passed the Farm Bill by a vote of 369-47 on the afternoon of December 12, 2018. The bill can now be sent to President Donald Trump for his signature.

A bill that would breathe new life into food sovereignty efforts and expand agricultural and economic development opportunities in Indian Country is almost across the finish line on Capitol Hill.

The 2018 Farm Bill was on the verge of collapse just a couple of months ago. But a bipartisan group of lawmakers reached a compromise earlier this week and included a number of pro-tribal provisions in H.R.2, the Agriculture Improvement Act.

"We worked hard to ensure that the Farm Bill supports our Native American communities and as chairman, I will continue to work to strengthen tribal agricultural production," said Sen. John Hoeven (R-North Dakota), who serves as chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

Following the release of the bipartisan compromise, the Senate voted 87-13 on Tuesday to approve H.R.2. The only "Nay" votes came from Republicans, some of whom serve on Hoeven's committee.

The Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations is one of the many programs that will be affected by the reauthorization of the national Farm Bill. Photo: Bob Nichols / U.S. Department of Agriculture

But as tribal leaders and advocates await action in the House, they are welcoming a number of provisions in the bill. They say the 807-page measure respects tribal sovereignty and encourages self-determination on a wide variety of food, agricultural, conservation and resource issues.

“I’m very pleased that we were able to work across committees and across the political aisle to secure a record number of tribal priorities for Indian Country in this Farm Bill,” said Sen. Tom Udall (D-New Mexico), the vice chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs.

One area of interest brings governmental parity to federal forestry management programs. Should H.R.2 become law, tribes for the first time will be able to enter into agreements to protect public lands around their territories. States are already able to do so.

According to President Arthur "Butch" Blazer of the Mescalero Apache Tribe, the provision will help the Department of Agriculture and the Department of the Interior prevent and address natural disasters, like wildfires, on federal lands in and around Indian Country. He said the upcoming program would help the federal government fulfill its trust responsibilities by protecting the resources in these areas.

"Our goal is to always do everything we can to protect tribal lands as well as adjoining public lands to which we maintain deep cultural connections given these lands are our ancestral areas," Blazer, who served as a senior official at the Department of Agriculture during the Obama administration, said on Tuesday.

"This tribal forestry contract program is a huge, positive step in that direction," Blazer said.

Arthur "Butch" Blazer serves a president of the Mescalero Apache Tribe, based in southern New Mexico. Photo: Bob Nichols / U.S. Department of Agriculture

Another area of interest for Indian Country is industrial hemp. The bill legalizes the production of the product, ensuring that tribes are on the same level as states and won't face raids or other enforcement threats.

"At a time when farm income is down and growers are struggling, industrial hemp is a bright spot of agriculture’s future," Sen. Mitch McConnell (R-Kentucky), the Republican majority leader in the Senate, wrote in a post on Twitter.

Overall, H.R.2 contains a "historic number" of favorable provisions, according to the Native Farm Bill Coalition. The group, consisting of tribes and advocacy organizations across the nation, worked closely with lawmakers from both parties to ensure Indian Country is at the table.

"The compromise bill supports the renaissance of healthy food systems in Indian Country and makes significant investments in food and agriculture production, infrastructure, and economic development for tribes and tribal producers," the coalition said in a statement on Tuesday.

Winnebago Tribe promotes food sovereignty for future generations
Winnebago Tribe promotes food sovereignty for future generations
Native and non-Native farmers, ranchers and agricultural advocates are working together to remain connected to the land and the food they eat.

What's in the 2018 Farm Bill?
H.R.2 includes provisions of S.2804, the Cultivating Resources, Opportunity, Prosperity and Sustainability for Indian Country Act. The Senate Committee on Indian Affairs approved the bill, also known as the CROPS Act, in May.

According to Sen. John Hoeven (R-North Dakota), the 2018 Farm Bill includes language to:
• Establish a PL 93-638 (self-determination) tribal pilot project to bolster greater local control over procurement of goods for tribal nutrition programs.

• Expand support for research opportunities at Tribal Colleges and Universities.

• Make permanent the USDA Tribal Advisory Committee to provide technical assistance to the Secretary of Agriculture.

• Promote trade opportunities for local producers by directing the Secretary, when applicable, appoint Tribal producers to international trade missions.

• Provide technical fix for names of Tribal Colleges and Universities including Nueta Hidatsa Sahnish College in New Town, North Dakota.

According to Sen. Tom Udall (D-New Mexico), provisions of H.R.2 address the following programs and initiatives:
• Expands Tribal Self-Determination to USDA – Authorizes tribal self-determination demonstration projects to USDA for the first time. A Tribal Self-Determination Project for Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR) Food Procurement, which will allow tribal food programs to better serve the nearly 90,000 Native FDPIR participants with greater access to traditional and nutritional foods, and a Tribal Self-Determination Project for forestry functions, which will allow tribes to enter into administrative and management contracts with the Forest Service and BLM. This provision will help reduce wildfire threats on Federal lands adjacent to Native communities.

• Tribal Advisory Committee on Agriculture – Establishes a permanent tribal advisory committee within USDA to provide technical assistance, guidance, and direction on all polices implemented by the USDA and its Office of Tribal Relations. This provision will ensure that Indian Country’s unique needs are considered early on to maximize efficiency and facilitate the federal government-to-government relationship.

• Tribal Promise Zones – Ensures the Tribal Promise Zone initiative will continue to provide improved access to resources and technical assistance from federal agency partners to Native communities. Promise Zones rely on collaborative relationships with local communities and federal agencies to optimize federal resources.

• International Trade Missions – Facilitates greater participation on international trade missions by Native American farmers and ranchers, allowing tribal producers the opportunity to sell traditional crops and tribal products in the international market.

• Research at Tribal Colleges and Universities – Enhances grant and research opportunities for tribal colleges and universities by expanding access to nearly $11.3 million in USDA research and extension funding, including the McIntire-Stennis Cooperative Forestry Research Program; the Children, Youth and Families at Risk (CYFAR) Program; and the Federally Recognized Tribes Extension Program (FRTEP).

• Establishment of Rural Development Technical Assistance Program for Indian Country – Establishes a Technical Assistance Program tailored to tackle the unique challenges of Tribal government, Tribal businesses and entities in accessing USDA’s rural development resources.

• Study of the Farm Credit System – Requires the Government Accountability Office (GAO) to study the agricultural credit needs of farms, ranches and agricultural businesses to determine whether the institutions of the Farm Credit System need to be improved to meet the unique needs of Indian Country.

The Native Farm Bill Coalition also highlighted a number of self-determination and parity provisions in H.R.2. They follow:
• Conservation: Parity and Support for Tribal Producers
Requires the Secretary of Agriculture to enter into alternative funding agreements with tribes and tribal producers in both the EQIP and CSP programs.

• Nutrition: Supporting Tribal Self-Governance and Management of FDPIR
Includes a new $5 million demonstration project authorizing tribes to purchase food for the Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations under “638” tribal self-determination contracts.
Adjusts the FDPIR matching requirements and funding limitations to reduce the burden of administering FDPIR so that economically disadvantaged tribes may reach more households in need of assistance.
20 percent tribal match; waiver of match to enable full USDA funding required for tribes with economic hardships; and ability to use other federal funding to reach the match requirement.
Allows for two-year carryover funding for FDPIR.
Adds “regionally-grown” to the traditional foods provision purchase provision for FDPIR

• Forestry: Self-Governance and Parity for Healthy Forestry Management
Establishes a Tribal Self-Governance Demonstration Project for management of Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management lands adjacent to Indian lands under the Tribal Forest Protection Act.
Makes tribal governments eligible to exercise Good Neighbor Authority for forestry management agreements with states and USDA

• Rural Development: Building Infrastructure and Economic Development Opportunities
Provides refinancing authority for some Rural Development programs currently within the Substantially Underserved Trust Areas (SUTA) designation.
Tribal priority, inclusion, and access to broadband programs, including the community connect program, to build infrastructure and economic development opportunities in Indian Country.
Creates a permanent tribal technical service and assistance office across all USDA Rural Development funding authorities.
Reauthorizes and expands eligibility of tribal consortia and Alaska Native Villages for a water system infrastructure program.
Maintains funding Tribal College and University Essential Community Facilities program.

• Research: Inclusion and Parity for Tribal Colleges and Universities (TCUs)
Adds 1994 TCUs as eligible for the McIntire-Stennis Forestry program capacity funding.
Reauthorization of support for TCUs, adding two tribal colleges previously excluded and creating parity for access to Children, Youth and Families at Risk (CYFAR) and the Federally Recognized Tribes Extension Program (FRTEP).
Creates a Native American student scholarship fund for tribal students who attend land grant universities and colleges.

• Trade: Increased Opportunities and Access to Overseas Markets
Increases opportunities for tribes and tribal producers to participate in international U.S. trade delegations.

• Horticulture/Specialty Crops: Support for Traditional and Local Foods
Makes tribes eligible to participate in Local Agriculture Market Program to help tribes grow, process and market Native foods.

• Commodity Title: Support for Tribal Producers
Adds tribes and tribal organizations as specifically eligible under the livestock disaster programs.

• Credit: Improving Access to Credit for Tribal Producers
Requires a Government Accountability Office (GAO) Study on access to credit issues in Indian Country.

• Upholding the Trust Responsibility
Maintains the Office of Tribal Relations within the Office of the Secretary to report directly to the Secretary of Agriculture.
Establishes a new Tribal Advisory Committee through the Office of Tribal Relations to provide advice to the Secretary on tribal related issues and policies.
Legalizes hemp farming and authorizes new state and tribal plans to self-regulate, develop, and expand hemp production; also provides technical assistance to tribes and requires that states permit a tribe to transport across a state hemp that is lawfully produced under this Act.
Provides additional tribal government and producers eligibility and permanent baseline funding for the combined Farming Opportunities Training and Outreach (FOTO) program for beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.
Codifies and expands Tribal Promise Zone program authority in order to bring greater focus to federal investments in tribal communities in ways that stimulate local economic development.
Makes tribes eligible to participate in new National Animal Disease Preparedness and Response Program.

• Additional Tribal-Specific Provisions Supporting Parity and Inclusion for Tribes and Tribal Producers
Authorizes micro-loans for local foods in food insecure areas and makes tribes eligible.

Hemp. Yes, Hemp is in the Farm Bill

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