Commodity groups, farmers and anti-hunger advocates brought a wide-ranging set of policy requests to the ears of Reps. Angie Craig, D-Minn., and Cheri Bustos, D-Ill. at a House Ag Committee listening session in Minnesota on Monday.

Among the most prominent of these were calls to bolster programs supporting young and beginning farmers, which speakers said were not effective enough at bringing new faces to the industry.

Several other requests were also made, including raising reference prices, increasing EQIP and CSP funding, leaving current crop insurance policies intact and expanding USDA’s supplemental nutrition assistance program.

Eric Hokanson, representing Farm Credit Cooperative Compeer Financial, urged the House Ag Committee to raise the limits for Farm Service Agency guaranteed and direct farm loans for younger and beginning farmers to allow them to keep up with high land prices and inflation.

USDA’s Direct Farm Ownership loan is currently capped at $667,000, which Hokanson says is too low.

“That doesn’t even purchase 80 acres,” he said.

Kelsey Love Zaavedra and Reginaldo Haslett-Marroquin, two farmers who started operations recently, called for changes in FSA’s loan approval process. Haslett-Marroquin said the current process is “stacked against” farmers who immigrated to the U.S.

“We really have to fix this whole Farm Service Agency and how you finance these farmers, because for as much as we know how to do and as good as we are at it, we have gotten zero support from the federal government,” he said.

Others called for the committee to look more generally at how it could better help new and beginning farmers get their start, especially with the ages of current farm operators on the rise.

The average age of the U.S. farmer was 57.7 years in 2017, according to the USDA. Around 27% of producers that year were beginning farmers.

“We need to look ahead to the future,” said Ed Terry, who served as an agricultural teacher and FFA advisor for 51 years at a local school. “Farm sizes are getting much larger, small towns are dying, rural schools are consolidating. We need to keep some of those things alive.”

The messages were not lost on Craig, who said she wanted to take a closer at options to address challenges young farmers face in the Farm Bill. 

"The price per acre in this country and this district is such that it’s very cost-prohibitive for someone to get into farming,” Rep. Angie Craig, D-Minn., told Agri-Pulse after the hearing. "So I think we have to take a look at how we can support that transition.”

Farm groups, including the Minnesota Corn Growers Association and the Minnesota Soybean Growers Association, touted the familiar phrase “do no harm” when it came to crop insurance programs. They urged the committee to keep these programs intact. 

“It is something that works,” said MSGA president Bob Worth.

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Worth also asked the committee to keep any climate-related initiatives away from the crop insurance program. When asked about Worth’s request after the hearing, Bustos said there’s still a lot that needs to be ironed out when it comes to climate change policy and how it should fit into the Farm Bill.

"We've got to address it,” Bustos told Agri-Pulse. “How we get that in the right place, I think there's more questions than answers right now. But we're going to have to come up with some answers in the 2023 Farm Bill.”

David Legvold, a farmer and retired educator, asked the committee to boost funding for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and Conservation Stewardship Program. Despite currently having billion-dollar budgets, both programs turn away the majority of their applicants.

Steve Schlangen, a dairy farmer and chairman of Associated Milk Producers Inc., suggested raising Tier 1 caps in the Dairy Margin Converage Program from 5 million to around 8 million. He also suggested allowing farmers in the program to renew their production history over time, because most of the participants currently use information from nearly 10 years ago.

Anti-Hunger advocates also called for some changes to SNAP. Jason Viana, the executive director of hunger relief organization The Open Door, encouraged the committee to eliminate the 3-month limit on SNAP benefits, as well as looking at any possible ways to expand the current SNAP program.

“SNAP, as you already know, is an economic stimulus to small businesses,” Viana told Craig and Bustos. “It increases health outcomes and it is the best poverty fighting tool we have at the federal level."

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