BURTON, Ohio — Connecting the urban side and the rural side of the farm bill isn’t going to be easy. Throw in the differing views from both sides of Congress, and most would say it is a monumental task to get a farm bill written.
Yet, Rep. Marcia Fudge, D-11, is confident that it can be accomplished in 2012.
Fudge visited the Hastings Dairy Farm in Burton, Ohio, May 23.
The meeting was designed as a listening session so Fudge could hear what really matters to the people who are affected by the farm bill.
Urban and rural stakeholders had the opportunity to share their experiences and tell Fudge what parts of the farm bill need funding.
Fudge is a member of the House agriculture committee and ranking member of the Subcommittee on Department Operations, Oversight and Credit.
She told the group that the Senate has passed its version of the farm bill and the House of Representatives expects to pass its version of the bill by the August session.
Fudge said the farm bill is much more than just a pathway to help farmers.
She explained because of the district she represents, she has had a lot of contact with the Cleveland Food Bank and the issues that surround it through the farm bill. She knows how important it is to residents in her district that the food bank receives all the funding possible.
One thing Fudge and those testifying at the hearing agreed upon is that there are more common issues for the two groups than not.
One item that appeared to be a bridge between the groups was ensuring funding continued for farmers to be able to provide fresh fruits and vegetables for food banks.
SNAP benefits. Another issue both sides commented on was trying to make it easier for those receiving Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP to be able to use them at farmers markets so that they can gain fresh fruits and vegetables.
Another issue is helping markets gain access to EBT machines so that the urban areas can receive the fruits and vegetables they need and pay for them electronically. However, that usually costs the farmer money and raises the price of the produce.
On the rural side of the aisle, some of the same issues were mentioned.
Eric Cotton, a grape grower in Lake County, talked about how specialty crops need to have a place in the farm bill.
He explained he and others like him would also like the SNAP program expanded to make it easier for those using it to obtain fresh fruits and vegetables.
He urged Fudge to find a way to make the farm bill flexible and diverse.
One example he provided as to why it needs to be flexible, was pests.
“We don’t know what will happen in five years, we can’t predict everything. We don’t know what pests will invade in that time period and what we will need to help protect crops and farmers,” Cotton said.
Crop insurance. Sparky Weilnau, a sixth-generation corn, soybeans and popcorn producer, also spoke at the listening sessaion.
He and two other farmers spoke about crop insurance and why it is needed.
“We as farmers need a strong safety net,” Weilnau said.
He explained that low commodity prices, high input costs and the weather present possible problems for farmers.
“There are no questions in my mind that the cycles will continue and farmers will suffer in the future if there is not a safety net,” Weilnau said.
He added that without government support for crop insurance, the price burden for farmers becomes too much, and they can’t afford it.
MILC. Brenda Hastings, a dairy farmer who hosted the hearing at her farm, talked about the necessity of MILC payments and why the payments necessary. She discussed how Ohio may be producing milk, but the cost of commodities to provide the feed for the cattle keeps going up which makes the MILC payments necessary.
Hastings also talked about the limits placed on the MILC payments depending on how many cattle are being milked at the farm. She used her farm as an example and explained they were only allowed to use the MILC payments for two and half months. However, smaller operations are able to obtain MILC payments for an entire year.
Pam Haley, a state trustee for the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation and farmer, expressed how important the EQIP and the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) funding is and how farmers need it to continue conservation projects. She also told Fudge that by completing EQIP projects, farmers are working to keep their neighbors safe because the funding can be used to help keep animals out of streams and ditches.
“We don’t want a free paycheck. We just ask for a safety net,” said Haley, as she also pointed out the need for crop insurance.
Ohio Farm Bureau Federation President Steve Kirsch, of Chillicothe, also spoke during the day. He said he listened to both sides during the session and concluded that the issues presented from urban residents and rural producers are diverse. However, there is some common ground in some areas but all deserve to have adequate funding in the 2012 farm bill.
Read Will Flannigan’s take on the Congresswoman’s visit here.