Wanted: More farm bill friends
© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.
WASHINGTON, Feb. 12, 2014 - With the 2014 farm bill finally signed into law, most people have moved to the next stages of education and implementation. But a few actually caught up on their sleep long enough to reflect on key factors that led to final passage and consider what will be needed to get the process rolling again before the current package expires in 2018.
Such was the case with farm, commodity group and conservation lobbyists who participated in the crop insurance industry's annual convention in Scottsdale, Ariz., this week.
Mike Stranz, a lobbyist for the National Farmers Union, summed up the strategy for 2014 and beyond in one word: “Friends.”
“Partnering with other groups helped us move a strong farm bill,” Stranz added. “If we are going to continue to make friends, we need to make sure the entire farm community stays together. Likewise, we don't need to be splitting up this community of people interested in food.”
Indeed, fracturing farm bill support by separating the farm from the food portion of the mammoth bill was a key strategy for conservative groups like Heritage Action and Taxpayers for Common Sense. And with about 80 percent of the bill's funding being directed at food and nutrition programs, the strategy was viewed as a way to convince many farmers and rural residents that they could live without the “food” portion of the bill. After the House failed to pass the farm bill last summer, House leaders split the bill into two parts to gain passage, only to see it pieced back together in conference.
Groups like the National Farmers Union and the American Farm Bureau Federation - general farm organizations who are usually at the opposite ends of the political spectrum - both voiced opposition to splitting the bill, noting that support of a “farm only” bill defied political logic. Only about 30 of 435 congressional districts are defined as “rural” in the U.S.
Stranz pointed out that farm organizations need to debunk the rural versus urban split on feeding assistance. “In urban centers, one of six qualify for food assistance. What's the ratio in rural? It's the same,” Stranz emphasized. “We need to focus on producing food and delivering to those who need it most.
The National Corn Growers Association's Sam Willett agreed that, “Any time we can work with other groups and secure win-win agreements, we ought to jump on the opportunity.”
Willett was one of several who helped secure the support of commodity organizations for reconnecting conservation compliance rules on crop insurance in exchange for avoiding new adjusted gross income (AGI) tests coverage. The partnership with conservation groups -brought together by crop insurance lobbyist David Graves with McLeod, Watkinson and Miller - connected Ducks Unlimited (DU), the National Wildlife Federation and other organizations to secure final farm bill passage.
“We agreed to fight AGI if others would support conservation compliance with crop insurance,” noted DU lobbyist Dan Wrinn, who said that this was a change in perspective for his organization compared to 2002 when “we really angered a lot of our friends in agriculture.”
After realizing that direct payments and ties to conservation compliance would likely be gone in a new farm bill, DU recognized that helping both large and small farmers, would be key to their own mission of filling the skies with ducks and geese for future generations. Crop insurance became the next logical connection to keeping conservation on the land.
“Never would I have thought that I would be setting up Capitol Hill visits for corn and soybean farmers,” Wrinn added. “But DU wants to be that conservation group that has a relationship with ranchers, farmers and now with the crop insurance industry. This isn't a date, this is a marriage. We are in this for the long haul.”
Mary Kay Thatcher, AFBF's Senior Director of Congressional Relations noted that, as a result of some of those partnerships, those who doubted whether agriculture is still relevant may have to reconsider.
“When you consider that in 2013 only 70 bills moved through the House of Representatives and we passed almost a trillion dollar farm bill, I think you can say that ag is still pretty darn relevant.”
For more information, see www.agri-pulse.com.