A recent article from the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis discussed the downward economic trajectory that has impacted the U.S. farm economy in recent years. Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue, in remarks this week to USDA employees, noted that trade is an area that could help provide relief for surplus stocks. News reports yesterday indicated that President Trump could sign an executive action withdrawing the United States from the North American Free Trade Agreement; since NAFTA's implementation, U.S. agricultural trade has grown significantly. However, subsequent news developments explained that Trump had decided not to pull out of NAFTA. Many in the agricultural sector are already anxious about U.S. trade policy, yesterday's executive branch actions on trade may not alleviate ongoing concerns.
Today’s update looks at the latest activity by the House Agriculture Committee on the Farm Bill, a listening session held earlier this week in Texas.
The House Ag Committee of the 115th Congress has conducted full Committee and Subcommittee Farm Bill hearings over the past few months on a variety of issues, including: the farm economy; conservation; rural development and energy programs; specialty crops; livestock and dairy issues; farm policy and farm credit, cotton and the SNAP program (food stamps). In addition, the Committee also heard perspective on the farm economy and farm policy in May from Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue.
Meanwhile, in June, “House Agriculture Committee Chairman K. Michael Conaway (R., Tex.) along with several members of the committee, hosted a farm bill listening session, ‘Conversations in the Field,’ at the University of Florida in Gainesville.”
On Monday, Chairman Conaway continued the “Conversations in the Field” meetings with a listening session in San Angelo, Texas.
Farm Bill Issues
Federico Martinez reported on Monday at the San Angelo Standard-Times Online that, “Assisting ailing dairy and cotton farming industries – pivotal crops that play a big role in a strong San Angelo economy — is a priority that must be addressed in the upcoming 2018 Farm Bill, according to U.S. Rep. Mike Conaway, R-Texas. Conaway also serves as the house chairman of the agricultural committee.
“Conaway and other U.S. agricultural leaders are attending a two-day Farm Bill Session & Legislative Summit at Angelo State University.
“‘We’re in San Angelo today to listen to producers and quite frankly anybody that has an interest in the Farm Bill, which quite frankly ought to be anybody that eats,’ Conaway said. ‘We’ll be hearing from farmers and ranchers and how they’re coping with and dealing with current circumstances.'”
The article noted that, “The feedback will be used to help form a new farm bill. One of Conaway’s biggest concerns is the state of dairy farming.
“‘There’s been a 50 percent drop in dairy farmer income in the last four years,’ Conaway said. ‘That’s the worst it has been since The Depression.'”
With respect to the SNAP program, the article noted that, “‘We want to make the food stamp program to be a success,’ Conaway said.
‘We want to see people get back on their own feet. That should be our measure of success, not how many people you have or how much money that is being spent.’
Michelle Gaitan reported on Monday at the San Angelo Standard-Times Online that, “A repeated comment heard at the session was cotton needs to be a Title 1 commodity. Title 1 of the farm bill deals with commodities and specialized programs for dairy and sugar.
“‘You better start worrying about guys like me,’ said Dan Smith, a cotton farmer and member of the Texas Farm Bureau Board of Directors in Lockney. ‘Therefore, you better start worrying about the entire industry. I am not kidding you, our backs are to the wall.'”
Ms. Gaitan added that, “Crop insurance, conservation, SNAP programs and the future of farming also were brought up as areas of concern for many commenters.”
Tony Dreibus reported yesterday at Successful Farming Online that, “Renegotiation of the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA), the new farm bill, and the economic health of rural America was on the minds of Texans who voiced their opinions and concerns to members of the House Agriculture Committee at a listening session in San Angelo on Monday.”
“Jim Lovell, the chairman of the Texas Cattle Feeders Association (TCFA) and a cattle feeder for 32 years, addressed upcoming negotiations of NAFTA, saying any changes at the very least should have no negative effects on farmers,” the article said.
The Successful Farming article also noted that, “Sonya Koke, who owns Blue Jay Dairy in Erath County, Texas, with her husband, told the committee that NAFTA needs to be renegotiated, but she and others in the industry worry about losing access to Mexico and Canada.”
Yesterday’s article added that, “Wade Cowan, the chairman of the American Soybean Association, said now is a tough time for farmers. Low crop prices along with high input costs are making it difficult to make money. When producers don’t spend, everybody in rural America suffers,” the article noted.
“‘I’m an eighth-generation farmer, and it breaks my heart to tell you that I don’t think there’ll be a ninth,’ he said. ‘Things are so tough.'”
Mr. Dreibus also pointed out that, “Among those involved in the listening sessions were Chairman K. Michael Conaway plus Reps. Collin Peterson, Jodey Arrington, David Rouzer, Roger Marshall, Rodney Davis, and Darren Soto.”
“‘The reason why we’re here today is to find out what you need, what policies we’re not familiar with … that you care about the most,’ Davis said prior to the start of the listening session. ‘This is what helps us get a good farm bill. It helped last time, and it’ll help in 2018.'”
And Politico’s Morning Agriculture reported yesterday that, “House Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway said at the panel’s field hearing in San Angelo, Texas on Monday that he wants to get a farm bill on the House floor by the end of this year — echoing a goal that his Senate counterpart, Pat Roberts, outlined last week.”
Yesterday’s update noted that, “Calls for returning cotton to Title I so it can qualify for commodity supports, improving livestock disaster assistance and strengthening conservation programs like CSP and EQUIP were plentiful, but the more passionate statements came from producers who fear the next generation won’t be on the farm for a variety of reasons: the lack of equity needed to secure financing; the constant rise in the cost of pesticides, seeds, and equipment while commodity prices slump, which makes it difficult to make a profit; and the deteriorating economic condition of rural America.
“‘I know five young growers who went out of business in the last three years,’ said Tony Dill of the Western Peanut Growers Association. ‘This is a very severe issue. I see no future in our country if we don’t do something for younger farmers. A lot of us older farmers are living on equity, and younger farmers don’t have that equity to get started.'”
Meanwhile, DTN Ag Policy Editor Chris Clayton reported yesterday that, “The House Agriculture Committee has its road trip, labeled ‘Conversations in the Field,’ which included a field hearing in Texas on Monday and another one at Farmfest in Minnesota on Thursday. Now Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue is taking off on a five-state RV tour of his own that also will start Thursday, but in Wisconsin instead of Minnesota.
“USDA announced Tuesday that Perdue’s ‘Back to Our Roots‘ tour will focus on getting input on the 2018 farm bill as well as working to increase rural prosperity. Perdue will tour Wisconsin, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois and Indiana. In a statement, Perdue said the tour will allow USDA to hear from people in agriculture as well as consumers, noting ‘they are the ones on the front lines of American agriculture and they know best what the current issues are.'”