By Ben Potter
On Wednesday, seven members of the House Agriculture Committee, including Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, and ranking member Collin Peterson, D-Minn., attended the Farm Progress Show in Decatur, Ill., to host a listening session. It was the fourth in a series dubbed “conversations in the field” the committee as it begins work on the next farm bill.
During the three-hour session, dozens of farmers, ranchers and others invested in the food and agriculture industry lined up to offer support of important government programs and voice concern over proposed cuts by the Trump Administration. In May, the administration requested a $17.9 billion budget for USDA, which is 21% lower than 2017. Proposed cuts would affect crop insurance, trade programs, research and more.
True to its name, the session saw representatives briefly introduced themselves before spending the remainder of the event listening and taking notes. Speakers lined up to talk about how critical a variety of farm programs were to their operations. Crop insurance was addressed more than any other topic.
“We lost 400 acres of corn due to flooding this spring, and we experience significant drought in 2012,” said Richard Guebert, who farms near Ellis Grove, Ill., and serves as president of the Illinois Farm Bureau. “Fortunately, in both cases, we had crop insurance – an important risk management tool in our toolbox. Keep farmers in crop insurance. And we must avoid additional means testing, which would reduce the pool and the soundness of these programs.”
Troy Uphoff, who farms in central Illinois, put it more bluntly.
“Crop insurance,” he said. “Safety net. No changes.”
Conaway, speaking at a press conference after the listening event concluded, said he heard the message loud and clear.
“The most consistent thing they said all day was, ‘Don’t mess with crop insurance,’” he said.
Conaway says Hurricane Harvey, which continues to affect his own district, was a stark reminder of how important the crop insurance and other farm bill programs are as he learned of stranded cattle and cotton bales sitting in floodwater “just totally destroyed.”
“This is a clear example of why we need a farm bill,” he says. “The unexpected happens all the time.”
Beyond crop insurance
A handful of session attendees also lined up to defend trade programs including the Foreign Market Development (FMD) and Market Access Program (MAP), which the Trump administration proposed to eliminate earlier this year.
“Foreign markets are so critical to the products that we raise,” said Ron Moore, who farms near Roseville, Ill., and serves as president of the American Soybean Association. “We need a robust trade title that supports foreign market development and strengthens market access programs.”
Other topics addressed during the session included conservation compliance, immigration and labor issues, research funding, rural development and infrastructure, expansion of the foot-and-mouth vaccine bank, reduction of burdensome regulations and nutrition program funding.
Rep. Rodney Davis, R-Ill., who attended similar listening sessions in Minnesota and Texas, said that even though farmers around the country raise different crops and livestock, their commonalities are much greater than their differences.
“What really gets me is the consistency of issues farmers want addressed,” he said.
Conaway said these events will help inform how the next farm bill will be crafted, adding that Congress understands the importance of timeliness – in particular, avoiding the same kind of delays that plagued the development of the current farm bill, which ultimately arrived two years late. Everybody eats, therefore everybody has something at stake, he argued.
“Getting the farm bill done on time is a pocketbook issue for everyone in America,” he said.
Other Representatives who attended the listening session included Reps. Mike Bost, R-Ill., Darren Soto, D-Fla., Glenn Thompson, R-Penn., and Cheri Bustos, D-Ill. Several applauded the bipartisan committee as genuinely interested in crossing party lines to work together.
Peterson joked that between himself and Conaway, who are both certified public accountants, they will make sure the farm bill math pencils out.
“This is maybe the first time in Congress that two CPAs have chaired a committee,” he said. “Maybe for once we’ll get the numbers right.”
- Potter is senior editor at Farm Futures.