Farm Bill Issues- House Ag Committee “Listening Sessions” Continue, Sec. Perdue Visits Midwest

Following Monday’s House Agriculture Committee Farm Bill Listening Session in Texas, lawmakers headed north to Minnesota on Thursday, the home state of Committee ranking member Collin Peterson, to host another forum to gather unfiltered input on farm policy issues from agricultural stakeholders.  And members of Congress went west, to California on Saturday, to hold their fourth Farm Bill listening session.

Meanwhile, in Wisconsin on Thursday, Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue kicked off the Department’s “Back to Our Roots” RV tour that is focusing “on getting input on the 2018 farm bill as well as working to increase rural prosperity.”

Also, the second Iowa Ag Summit was also held on Saturday in Des Moines where audience participants heard Sec. Perdue, Iowa GOP Senator Chuck Grassley, and other agricultural leaders discuss policy related issues.

Today’s update recaps some of the highlights from these recent farm policy linked activities, as well as some general background regarding the Farm Bill and House Ag Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R., Tex.).

Farm Bill Background- Chairman Conaway

Last week, prior to Thursday’s Committee session in Minnesota, Abby Livingston reported at The Texas Tribune Online that, “The farm bill is supposed to pass every five years, but the last round proved particularly difficult. The Senate and House ended up passing the last farm bill in 2014two years later than expected, and authorized nearly $1 trillion in spending, according to the Congressional Budget Office.”

Ms. Livingston explained that, “Fiscal hawks like the Club for Growth and Heritage Foundation regularly campaign against it.

“‘The farm bill is an unholy marriage between farm subsidies and food stamps,’ emailed Andy Roth of the Club for Growth. ‘If we had an honest debate about each issue separately, support for each would fail.’

“‘So why should taxpayers pay for two programs that can only pass Congress through the ridiculous sausage-making that Americans hate about Washington?'”

On Tuesday, House Ag Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R., Tex.) addressed the West Texas Legislative Summit at Angelo State University. The 2018 Farm Bill was the topic of this year’s summit. (PHOTO FROM- House Ag Committee Twitter Page, @HouseAgNews).

The Texas Tribune article noted that, “[House Ag Committee Chairman Mike Conaway] had no patience for those interest groups.

‘Every single one of those guys that are against it live in that 20 percent bracket that don’t care what the cost of food is,’ he said. ‘[They] couldn’t give a rat’s rear end, and so that’s the ones who hate it.’

Farm Bill- House Ag Committee

In his weekly electronic newsletter Friday, House Ag Committee ranking member Collin Peterson (D., Minn.) noted that, “This week I joined hundreds of Minnesota’s farmers, ranchers, and producers at Farmfest for a House Agriculture Committee listening session on the next farm bill. I was pleased that a number of other members from the Committee and region could join, including Chairman Conaway (TX), Reps. Walz, Nolan, and Emmer from Minnesota, and Reps. Cramer and Noem from North Dakota and South Dakota respectively. Hearing directly from those most impacted by our rural economy only reinforced my conviction that Congress would get more done if they spent more time listening, instead of talking.”

At Thursday’s meeting, Rep. Noem pointed out that:

Now in the House there’s 435 members, but there’s less than 36 people who represent rural districts, so we have to educate a lot of people in the House of Representatives about agriculture and how important it is.

“And I talk about it from a national security standpoint, that if this country doesn’t feed ourselves, then we’re dependent on another country and then they control us. So it’s important we get a strong farm bill.”

Kevin Papp, the President of Minnesota Farm Bureau addressed the lawmakers on Thursday and stated in part that, “Our connection with agriculture, farmers and ranchers, is food, so let’s keep the food still in the farm bill. Make sure we make that connection.

“The other thing is the weather. We appreciate the weather today, but we can’t control the weather. We’ve got to have risk management tools in the farm bill. Crop insurance, revenue insurance. Personally, I was involved in a hail storm this year where we lost the corn and the bean crop on one farm. And it’s that crop insurance—I’m not going to make any money at that this year, but I’m going to be able to farm again next year because of those risk management tools.”

He added that, “We’ve got a lot of financial stress out there in agriculture right now. We got low prices. The way to raise low prices is to increase demand.

Trade is not the biggest part of the farm bill, but it’s a big part of agriculture.

“So continue to help us with trade. We’re fortunate we can grow more than we can use. We need that 96% of the world as our market. You can’t do trade without transportation.”

Gary Wertish, the President of Minnesota Farmers Union pointed out that, “The nutrition title came up in every one of our meetings, the importance of the nutrition title. In the last farm bill there was an attempt to remove the nutrition title from the bill. I would encourage all of you to hold tight. It’s very important to keep that in there.

“One of the administrators that administers the nutrition program within the state of Minnesota, he said the average length of stay of someone on the food stamp, formerly food stamp, now the SNAP program, is nine months. And of that nine months, the majority of those people got put in that situation for either a healthcare issue or a loss of a job. And I saw this morning a news clip, there was a recent study that shows there’s a higher percentage of rural people using the SNAP program than there are urban. So it’s very important to keep that in the program.”

With respect to the dairy component of farm policy, Sadie Frericks, a dairy farmer from Melrose, Minnesota, stated that, “Our farm was built from scratch. We don’t have generations of equity to fall back on in the event of another market collapse, so safety nets are imperative for a farm like ours. We already restructured our loans once in 2009, and I don’t like to think about doing that again. So that’s why we were really excited when the margin protection program was rolled out. We strongly support a program that is based on both milk revenue and feed prices.

Unfortunately, the margin protection program isn’t working. In 2015 and 2016, after careful consideration with our financial analyst, we enrolled at the 6.50 margin protection level. We [actually needed] the $8 margin to maintain fiscal responsibility on our farm, but the premium difference between 6.50 and $8 did not seem like the best way to spend our hard earned money, so we enrolled at the 6.50 level. In the end, after a year of dismal prices, the indemnity that we received barely equaled the premium that we paid, so in 2017, knowing that the program wasn’t providing the insurance that we’d hoped for, and because prices were forecasted higher, we enrolled at the $4 level.

“I encourage you to look for ways to make the margin protection program more affordable and to provide better coverage.”

DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported on Thursday that, “Harold Wolle, president of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, weighed in on the Conservation Reserve Program, telling congressmen the current 24-million-acre cap is limiting the marginal ground that can go into the program.

“‘I sure would like to see that raised substantially higher so we can get the lands that need to be in that program in it,’ Wolle said. ‘I think we can raise the acres and lower the rental rate.'”

The DTN article added that, “Conaway said he thinks the farm bill would advance sometime late in the year or early next year. He added he also has submitted some proposals to the Congressional Budget Office to score for costs, though Conaway declined to offer specifics.”

At Saturday’s listening session in California, Chairman Conaway reiterated that the goal is to get the 2018 Farm Bill on the House floor by the fourth quarter of this year, or the first quarter of next year.

Iowa Ag Summit, Sec. Perdue RV Tour

Daniel Looker reported on Saturday at Successful Farming Online that, “The goal in Congress is to pass a new farm bill by Christmas, Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) told farmers and agribusiness leaders at the 2017 Iowa Ag Summit in Des Moines Saturday.

“Grassley, a longtime member of the Senate Agriculture Committee, expects no major changes to the existing farm programs.”

Mr. Looker added that, “Grassley does expect challenges to crop insurance. The Trump administration has proposed putting a cap on crop insurance indemnity payments. Critics are trying to eliminate the harvest price option, which raises the value of insured crops at harvest if prices have gone up due to a drought or other market forces.

“Grassley said Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) has promised not to cut spending for the crop insurance program.”

Meanwhile, Donnelle Eller reported in Sunday’s Des Moines Register that, “Dairy farmer Ranae Dietzel told U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue on Saturday that she and her husband struggled for about a decade to find land they could farm.

“Frustrated, Dietzel and her husband, Kevin, ran an ad that eventually connected them with a landowner willing to sell 80 acres. Now, the couple graze 21 cows and uses the milk to make cheese on their farm near Jewell.

“Perdue, announcing a new mentoring program for new farmers, told about 400 people at the Iowa Ag Summit he wants to make it easier for families like the Dietzels to begin farming.”

Ms. Eller added that, “In some areas, the Department of Agriculture will look to ‘co-locate’ with the [U.S. Army Corps of Engineers], the Department of Interior, the Environmental Protection Agency and the Energy Department.

“‘The president has charged us … to look at every regulation that could be an impediment to productivity in America,’ said the former Georgia governor. ‘We’re up to 250 in the USDA already.

‘We’ll be culling them,’ he said, an effort joined by the EPA and other federal agencies under the Trump administration.”

And Rick Barrett reported on the front page of the business section in Friday’s Milwaukee Journal Sentinel that, “One of [Sec. Perdue’s] main tasks this year is working with Congress on the next five-year farm bill, which will set the direction for agricultural policies and food programs.

“‘My principle for the farm bill is it should follow the market, not guide the market. I don’t want people farming for the farm bill,’ Perdue said in an interview.”

The article noted that, “Perdue said he supports the [federal nutrition] programs, but he doesn’t want able-bodied adults without dependents abusing the system.

“‘Just like I am talking about a safety net for farmers, we want a safety net for people who don’t have enough to eat. But we don’t want it to become a lifestyle for people who become dependent on a government program,’ Perdue said.”

Last week’s article added that, “Perdue said he recognizes the importance of crop insurance, with some limits.

“‘It needs to be a safety net that producers can participate in and provide them with an income. But we don’t want people farming for the insurance program,’ Perdue said.”

Keith Good

Keith Good is the social media manager for the farmdoc project at the University of Illinois. He is well known in agricultural circles for the daily FarmPolicy.com News Summary.