WASHINGTON, July 13, 2016 - Passing a farm bill has traditionally required an urban and rural coalition, and the American Soybean Association (ASA) doesn’t appear to be taking the need for that coalition lightly.
“It’s our intent to erect the largest tent we can possibly put up and invite not only the commodity organizations, the trade associations, but also all the other stakeholders in the farm bill… to be under that tent,” ASA President Richard Wilkins said Tuesday at the association’s Soy Issues Forum in Washington. ASA voted at its annual policy meeting in March to add formal opposition to a split farm bill to its policy book.
“As our patriots said at one time, we’re either going to hang separate or we’re going to hang together,” he added. “It’s crucial at this point in time – having experienced the challenges of getting the 2014 farm bill across the finish line – to do it differently and to make a difference.”
Traditionally, the legislation has combined farm and nutrition provisions as a way to attract votes from both rural and urban lawmakers for agriculture programs. However, the urban and rural coalition went through a rough patch in 2013, when the House approved a split farm bill before conferencing with the Senate to bring the farm and nutrition titles back together.
When the majority of spending in the bill started to be directed toward nutrition programs – mostly the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP – calls came to separate the farm provisions from nutrition assistance. But Rep. Jim McGovern, a Massachusetts Democrat and the ranking member of the House Nutrition Subcommittee, says that splitting the bill would kill the legislation.
“I don’t like to say anything with certainty, but if this nutrition section gets separated from the farm bill, you’re never going to see another farm bill,” he told ASA members.
Aside from preaching unity, ASA also hosted some other farm groups to hear about their concerns and policy priorities for the upcoming farm bill.
“It’s not the Congress of 40 years ago; we can’t just bank on getting a farm bill done,” John Hollay, vice president of government relations for the National Milk Producers Federation, said at the meeting. “That last farm bill was truly the signal that we better work together, otherwise, (passing a bill is) not going to happen.”
Aside from preaching unity, ASA also hosted some other farm groups to hear about their policy priorities for the upcoming farm bill.
Hollay said NMPF will be seeking changes to the Dairy Margin Protection Program (MPP), saying it was the right program at the time, but “clearly there are changes that need to be made to it” to better reflect current price and market conditions.
He added that much like the cotton industry had to go to USDA for help when the Stacked Income Protection Plan (STAX) proved to be inadequate for the cotton industry, the dairy industry may need to ask USDA for additional assistance, although he didn’t elaborate as to what that assistance might be.
Reese Langley, vice president of government affairs with the National Cotton Council, said his industry will be pushing to add cottonseed treated as a covered commodity under certain farm bill programs. An effort to do so administratively failed when Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack ruled that he didn’t have the authority to do so. As a result, USDA has made funding available for cost sharing in the cotton ginning process, but Langley said the industry is concerned about the one-time nature of that funding and will seek a more permanent solution.
Robert Guenther, United Fresh Produce Association’s senior vice president of public policy, acknowledged that produce is a small part of the farm bill, but said the organization will still spend time trying to be engaged on policy discussions affecting their members, citing conservation programs and urban farming as examples.
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