WASHINGTON, Jan. 11, 2017 - National Grange Master Betsy Huber, just completing her first year as president of the oldest U.S. general farm organization, aims to increase its stature as it celebrates its 150th anniversary in 2017. The Grange plans to put its emphasis on crop insurance and health care legislation and rural telecommunications policy next year, she told a recent luncheon of USDA retirees.
The top issue for the Grange this year is expanding broadband communications. “Too many rural areas are without adequate service,” she said, adding that 53 percent of rural America lacks high-speed internet access. Huber is particularly concerned about continued availability of subsidized “lifeline” communications in rural areas, outlining the Grange views in an article on Agri-Pulse earlier this year.
“We also plan to be very active on the farm bill,” she said, emphasizing food security and safety. “We believe that SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) should be in the farm bill. We don’t want to take food away from the hungry, but there needs to be oversight to eliminate abuses,” she added. “We also want to work on better food handling by the consumer,” she said, emphasizing educational programs to teach people the proper way to take care of food after it leaves the grocery store.
The Grange also “strongly supports the continuation of the multi-peril federal crop insurance program,” according to policy adopted at its November 2016 annual meeting, urging that it cover “all program, non-program and specialty crops on a nationwide basis.”
One of its more extensive policy resolutions calls for significant changes in the dairy program, including a milk supply management program, a raise in the milk support price, legislation geared toward controlling volatility of month-to-month milk prices, and “major improvements to the dairy producer income insurance program.”
Grange policy appears favorable to some initiatives expected under the incoming Trump Administration but at odds on others. Saying that doctors are becoming scarce in some rural areas, she would amend “some parts of the Affordable Care Act” that could hinder the availability of medical care for patients in rural America. Like most national farm and commodity groups, the Grange opposes the Waters of the United States (WOTUS) rule proposed by the Environmental Protection Agency and Army Corps of Engineers.
However, it could be on opposite sides on trade. “Our policy resolution supports the TPP (Trans-Pacific Partnership),” she said. “We have had a big debate on NAFTA (North American Free Trade Agreement), but our policy remains in favor of free and fair trade.”
The Grange is “very supportive of biotechnology,” Huber said, noting that biotech food ingredients have been proven safe. “We have a number of members growing organic or local food that oppose it, but the majority continues to support biotechnology.” Its policy opposes legislation that requires the labeling of products of milk from cows treated with recombinant bovine somatotropin (rBST), one of the first commercial uses of biotechnology.
Huber, who was born and raised on a dairy farm in Chester County, Pennsylvania, is the first woman elected as “master” – the formal title of the president of the organization formally known as the National Grange of the Patrons of Husbandry. She says the national group now consists of about 2,000 local granges in 37 states with some 160,000 members. They are most active in the Northeast and Pennsylvania and the Northwest states and California.
She also is the steward of a significant history of legislative accomplishment. The Grange is credited with enactment of the first legislation to regulate railroads, of enactment of rural free delivery for the Post Office and with its early support for a Cabinet-level USDA. The first secretary of agriculture, Norman Jay Coleman, was a Grange member, she noted.
Huber’s office gives her the responsibility for one of the most coveted office buildings in Washington. On H Street overlooking Lafayette Square, the landmark 11-story building was dedicated by the late President Dwight D. Eisenhower in 1960, and is the only private edifice in a federal block across from the White House. Although rumors have surfaced in the past that one or more government agencies would like to buy it to consolidate the federal enclave, Huber said that, although they may want it, “there has been no pressure lately. We don’t intend to sell.”
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