Farmers make their voices heard in Farm Bill debate
The Farm Bill debate is officially underway with the House Agricultural Committee marking up H.R. 2, the Agriculture and Nutrition Act of 2018, this week.
The Senate Ag Committee is expected to markup its version of the 2018 Farm Bill this spring. Following floor consideration and passage of separate bills in both houses of Congress, a conference committee will resolve the differences between the bills and send the negotiated agreement back to both chambers for final passage.
What the final legislation will look like after legislators finish their work is unclear. But what is clear is that farmers have been vocal – and will continue to be vocal – every step of the way.
Members of Congress have heard from growers and business owners over the last several months in listening sessions, during personal visits and in opinion pieces published in newspapers across the nation.
Farm Policy Facts sat down with a few of them to find out why they spend their time flying to Washington, or writing editorials, to help advocate for a strong farm policy.
Thousands and thousands of jobs
Greg Sandrock is a partner in the Cornerstone Agency insurance company in northern Illinois.
He sells crop insurance, so farm policy is critical to his business.
But he’s also a resident of Tampico, Illinois, a town of about 800 where agriculture touches everything. So, the Farm Bill, with its safety net of crop insurance, is also critical to the place he calls home.
“It’s crucial that the Farm Bill stay strong in terms of the safety net provided by crop insurance with all the crops,” he said. “It’s so crucial, anymore, because margins are extremely tight and so there’s very little room for error.”
He was in Washington this week as part of a fly-in of about 1,100 insurance agents from across the nation. Sandrock has been making trips like this for 15 years.
One of the messages he’s routinely brought to Congress is that crop insurance is more than just a safety net for farmers. From banking, to agricultural inputs like fertilizer, to machinery and even pickup trucks, crop insurance creates a stable economy that touches many lives.
“When you look at all of that combined, it is so much more than just the farmers. Crop insurance lays the ground work for all the ag inputs and all the folks that work in that industry,” he said. “As you throw that stone in the water that ripple effect goes out to thousands and thousands and thousands of jobs.”
More vital than ever
Kirby Hettver, of De Graff, Minnesota, made the rounds in Congress in March with the Minnesota Corn Growers Association. He’s the president. Hettver is a fifth-generation farmer growing corn, soybean and alfalfa.
He, and five fellow farmers, met with the Minnesota delegation and House and Senate leaders, including House Ag Chairman Conaway, Senate Ag Chairman Roberts and Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow.
The Farm Bill, he told lawmakers, is critical this year.
“With us looking at five years of declining net farm income the safety net is more vital than it has been for a number of years,” he said.
The group of corn growers specifically discussed tweaking Agricultural Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage – two policies designed to help growers when prices are low – and talked a lot about crop insurance that enable growers to rebuild after weather disasters.
“Especially for a farmer like me that is on the younger side of the farming scope, we talked about how important [farm policy] is for financing and how that’s part of our business plan,” he said.
Hettver felt like members of Congress and congressional staffers were listening. He said the Minnesota delegation asked for feedback and viewed his group as a resource. Hettver and his group also explained why it is important to get the Farm Bill done by September.
“In the businesses that we run, there’s a lot of things we plan out for long term,” he said. “And the certainty of having a Farm Bill for the next 5 years helps us build those plans with our financial institutions and with the other partners we rely on to provide products and services to the farm.”
Don’t cut families out
Hettver probably bumped into dozens of sugar farmers, who were in town at the same time to advocate for sugar policy and request help in beating back attempts to weaken that policy.
In addition to meeting with hundreds of offices, two sugar farmers – Catherine LaCour of Louisiana and Joel Gasper of Minnesota – shared their story with the Washington Examiner newspaper.
They explained that for most Americans, it’s a great time to be in business. The economy is booming, stocks are soaring, and unemployment is at a 17-year low. But all that prosperity seems a long way off when you work in a farm field.
“If you’re a farmer, like we are, the outlook is horrible,” they wrote. “Farm incomes are down, commodity prices are low, and the weather is increasingly unpredictable.”
They pointed out that prices for sugar are lower today than they were in 1980, while inputs like fuel and machinery have all increased in cost. And, they wrote, subsidized foreign sugar has killed American jobs.
To protect America’s remaining sugar farms and jobs, they urged Congress to keep a strong sugar program in the Farm Bill.
“We need lawmakers continue to support a strong sugar policy,” they wrote. “Communities, and families like ours, are counting on them. Please, Congress, don’t cut us out of the Farm Bill.”