Farm bill wheels starting to turn
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WASHINGTON, Nov. 30, 2016 - Across the country, ag organizations are going through their respective policy development processes, aiming to come up with their wish lists for the next farm bill by early 2017.
Agri-Pulse recently caught up with a number of players in the farm bill conversation, and while many were coy about what they expect their farm bill push to include, they all were certain that the effort will be worth it.
“We're in the middle of our policy process right now in our counties and states, and that will roll up to the national level here in December and January at our national convention,” American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall told Agri-Pulse, expressing a theme voiced by other stakeholders.
Representatives from a number of influential groups didn't want to go into specifics, but told Agri-Pulse that farm safety net programs will need to be addressed. Discrepancies in the Agriculture Risk Coverage-County program have been a source of consternation at morning coffee gatherings across the country, and echoes of those conversations have certainly made their way to Washington. Now, farm groups will be working to fix some issues with safety net programs while protecting farm programs from other attacks.
“Crop insurance is the number one priority in any farm bill,” Gordon Stoner, president of the National Association of Wheat Growers, said in an interview with Agri-Pulse. “The long knives are out. EWG (Environmental Working Group) and the Heritage Foundation would tear the entire program down. Not only crop insurance, they are coming after conservation.”
Coincidentally, Scott Faber with EWG and Daren Bakst with the Heritage Foundation were scheduled to speak at a Farm Foundation forum today in Washington. Both groups are vocal opponents of a number of programs strongly supported by ag groups.
Bakst, an ag policy research fellow with Heritage, says the next farm bill should consider what he calls “excessive federal intervention in agricultural policy” and should “move towards a properly focused safety net that protects farmers from major crop losses only.”
Faber says he'll make the case that “we need to make our farm policy as modern as our food policy.” Among other things, he says that means “advocating for a farm safety net that helps farmers, rewards innovation, reduces dependency on subsidies, and that isn't rigged in favor of the largest, most successful farm businesses.”
National Council of Farmer Cooperatives CEO Chuck Conner was also scheduled to speak at the forum.
Aside from the big-picture items, a number of groups will be pushing for reforms that more directly affect their membership. Cotton and dairy producers can be expected to look for a safety net fix specific to their respective issues, other organizations are looking at potential reforms in conservation programs, and livestock groups are expected to use the farm bill as a legislative vehicle to fund a foot and mouth disease vaccine bank.
No matter the talking points of their opponents, ag stakeholders will have to learn from the events of the process in passing the 2014 farm bill, when legislation was initially defeated on the House floor. Now, several agricultural leaders say they're more unified and willing to compromise on divisive issues.
National Corn Growers Association President Wesley Spurlock used his own Texas farm as an example of why that should be the case. His operation grows corn, cotton, sorghum, and other crops, so if those commodities can exist on the same farm, the grower groups should work together to produce the critical legislation.
“As national organizations we will continue to work together, and we need to do a better job,” Spurlock said. “If we work together, then it makes it easier for the Senate ag committee and the House ag committee to get these done, and then the administration also sees that we are unified and that makes it easier to go into the future with the next programs.”
Fellow Texan and American Soybean Association Chairman Wade Cowan harkened back to remarks he gave at the 2015 Commodity Classic in Phoenix. He said those comments, and the unity that has come about in the last few years, will serve the industry well.
“(I said) never again do we eat each other on the way to get a farm bill, and I think that took hold with everybody,” Cowan said. “We had been foolish in not working together. We can have our disagreements and we'll have disagreements as we go into this farm bill, but let's get in a room, talk about it, let's get on the same page.”
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