VIDEO: Senate committee passes farm bill with forest reforms; praise by Daines, Tester

The Senate Agriculture Committee on Wednesday passed the 2018 farm bill, keeping intact forest management reforms offered by committee member Sen. Steve Daines.

The bill passed by a 20-1 vote.

Daines included in the bill the Timber Innovation Act to find new markets for Montana timber, and funding to improve wildlife habitat and outdoor opportunities by increasing public access to private land.

The bill also includes a provision that encourages coordination among the Forest Service and state forestry agencies to conduct projects that cross boundaries under their jurisdiction. Daines believes the measure will restore forests and reduce the risk of wildfire.

On the agriculture side, the bill also includes funding for agriculture research.

“This proposal is good news for Montana farmers and ranchers,” said Daines. “As the farm bill moves forward, I will continue to fight for Montana agriculture and for responsible forest management that supports Montana jobs and contributes to healthier, safer forests.”

The bill now heads to the Senate floor, where Daines said he will offer additional amendments, including reforms to litigation he says threaten the timber industry, and other reforms to strengthen forest management.

According to CNBC, the bill also includes hemp legalization – a measure backed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnel, R-Kentucky.

The only vote against the bill was cast by Sen. Chuck Grassly, R-Iowa.

“Younger farmers in my state are particularly interested in going in this direction,” McConnel was quoted as saying. “We have a lot of people in my state who are extremely enthusiastic about the possibilities. As we all know, hemp is very diversified.”

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, also pushed the Timber Innovation Act. Tester is the Senate’s only working farmer.

“By expanding the research and development of mass timber technologies and applications, [this bill] presents Congress with the opportunity to support the deployment of a proven-safe, domestic renewable resource,” Tester wrote to the committee. “Passage of this important legislation will drive innovation in engineering as well as provide rural economies with a new market and the tools necessary to achieve long-term prosperity.”