A farm bill panel at the Minnesota Ag Expo in Mankato, Minn., Jan. 25 expressed concern over whether or not the next farm bill will provide an adequate safety net for farmers and continued funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.
On the panel were Kevin Paap, president of the Minnesota Farm Bureau Federation; Gary Wertish, president of the Minnesota Farmers Union; and Peter Woitcock, a community organizer with Hunger Solution Minnesota in St. Paul, Minn.
Paap acknowledged that additional funding probably would not happen and that Farm Bureau will defend what farmers get now.
“Everyone would like more money, but I don’t think it’s in the cards,” he said. “We need to work together, and quickly, to get it done now. With an election coming up [in November], we won’t be talking about a farm bill then.”
Wertish said, given the stressed rural economy, that Farmers Union is asking for an increase in farm bill spending.
“Dairy and cotton programs are not working,” he said. “We can’t cannibalize other programs. We need additional funding.”
Woitcock expressed concern about the stereotype surrounding folks who receive food assistance and how that may impact dollars allocated for SNAP.
“We’re in protective mode with SNAP. We don’t want any cuts,” Woitcock said. “In Minnesota, 70% of the people we work with are on SNAP — seniors, children, people with disabilities. A lot of people are working, but they aren’t making enough to feed their families.”
Even though Minnesota is a leader in agriculture, more than 9,000 people per day visit a food shelf to get help, according to the Hunger Solutions website, hungersolutions.org.
Paap and Wertish encouraged farmers to reach out to their congressional leaders and let them know their concerns. They noted more than once how the ag community works together to find compromises.
“Ag has always been bipartisan,” Wertish said. “Farmers Union and Farm Bureau will be there.”
Paap summed up the farm bill discussion with three points: A farm bill is needed sooner rather than later, ag is working together to find a balance, and farmers need to be at the table.
Said Paap: “Let officials know that what they are doing, or not doing, is having an impact on your farm.”
Talks in D.C.
At a House Agriculture Committee meeting in late January, in his opening comments, committee Chairman Michael Conaway noted the bleakness facing farmers and ranchers today.
“Over the last four years, we have witnessed the steepest decline in net farm income since the Great Depression,” he said in a press release. He said the passage of the recent tax reform bill would provide some tax relief for American agriculture. However, challenges with natural disasters, and high and rising foreign subsidies, tariffs and nontariff trade barriers have resulted in lost crops and chronically depressed prices.
“Uncertainty over the direction of trade has exacerbated the anxiety in rural America because the U.S. farmer and rancher depends so much on access to global markets to make ends meet,” Conaway said.
He noted that crop insurance has provided critical risk management to farmers.
“However, the most costly hurricanes on record have shed some light on areas where we need to make improvements, so crop insurance can serve the Florida orange producer as well as the Iowa corn farmer,” Conaway said. “And, some weaknesses in the farm bill’s safety net have also become apparent, especially for our nation’s cotton and dairy farmers.”
At the same committee meeting, House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Rep. Collin Peterson, D-Minn., also offered opening comments and shared them in a press release. He noted how much commodity prices have dropped since the farm bill was last reauthorized, and that current milk prices are softening.
“I am very concerned that if prices continue to fall, and yields decrease, we could be in for some real trouble,” Peterson said. “This is one of the reasons I would like to see a new farm bill, with an improved safety net, but with no new money it’s going to be hard to do.”
Peterson also expressed concern about the administration not understanding agriculture and relying on the ag secretary to be a voice of reason at the table.
Some farm bill numbers
According to a June 2017 Congressional Budget Office baseline estimate, the 2014 Farm Bill thus far has cost $878 billion. Spending was divided up as follows: nutrition, 76%; crop insurance, 9%; commodities, 7% and conservation, 7%.