For 30 years the movers and rattlers of cages for Texas agriculture have met annually to discuss pertinent issues in farm policy. Former U.S. Rep. Charlie Stenholm was the force behind establishing this annual meeting “to get together and discuss all of agriculture,” as he put it during his remarks at the latest forum in Austin.
Stenholm, a Democrat who represented one of the largest cotton districts in Texas, followed a panel of key Texas commodity association representatives who offered assessments on the new farm programs, trade, and other issues facing farmers.
“The world is a different place,” Stenholm said. “Those of us who want to farm like we once did need to understand that we are now in an international market, and we have to learn to live with it. We need to be competitive in the international marketplace.”
He said U.S. agriculture is not as competitive yet as it should be in the global market. “But we will get there, and then we will do fine.”
For the latest on southwest agriculture, please check out Southwest Farm Press Daily and receive the latest news right to your inbox.
In the meantime, he says the agriculture industry needs to build coalitions with other industries that share interests. As a senior policy advisor for Olsson Frank Weeda, a Washington-based law firm, Stenholm works with both agriculture and oil and gas and is trying to create a coalition of those industries, which, he says, share interests.
“It’s a complicated task,” he said. Corn ethanol, for instance, has been a stumbling block.
He says the U.S. budget, and the $18 trillion debt, will continue to be an issue for agriculture as Congress looks for ways to reduce spending. “There will be a budget,” he said. “It’s inexcusable not to have a budget. President Obama submitted his budget on time, and it is not a bad budget for a President’s budget.”
He said the House and Senate should work to meet their own deadlines and get budget proposals to conference and then figure out how to deal with the sequester still in place.
Earlier, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, said budget discussion likely will include the farm program, including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP or food stamps).
“This is the biggest segment of the farm program so we have to get it right,” Conaway said. “It should work for beneficiaries and it should work for taxpayers. We need a better sense of how it is working. We want to find out what’s working and what isn’t.”
Stenholm said SNAP is about more than numbers. “People are behind those numbers.”
He also praised Conaway for the work he’s done for Southwest and U.S. agriculture.
Conaway said another area of concern is the Commodity Futures and Trading Commission. “We want to allow the industry to do regulation that makes sense,” he said.
The budget debate should be “smooth sailing” since both houses are in Republican control, he noted. But the sequestration issue will add challenges. “Sequestration should not have happened. No rational thought went into how to do it.”
He also noted that the Department of Defense will be pinched. “We need to find a way to make the DOD work,” he said.
Tell your story
Farmers and the associations and industries that support them must “continue to tell the wonderful story of production agriculture. We have the most abundant, safest food supply in the world. But we have a disconnect with the public about where food comes from.”
Conaway said the next farm bill will be even more difficult to pass than the current one, adding that the House and Senate agriculture committees will have to work to protect crop insurance subsidies and to prevent more payment limitations.
“We all have to educate the new members in Congress.”
Stenholm said agriculture needs to be prepared to fight off negative stories in “The New York Times and the Washington Post” that could have adverse effects on the agriculture program budget. ”And we have to realize that the budget will not get bigger; it will get smaller. Agriculture is vulnerable, and we don’t have the votes we used to have.”
Stenholm also recognized Tommie Engelke with the Texas Agricultural Cooperative Council as being instrumental in developing the Texas Ag Forum.