WASHINGTON – Since arriving in Washington, D.C., Ohio farm leaders have revealed a mixed bag of emotions when it comes to policies that affect agriculture.
County Farm Bureau members, organizational directors and state leaders from Ohio Farm Bureau Federation (OFBF) have converged on the Capitol for the County Farm Presidents’ Trip in Washington, D.C. March 13-15.
Somber attitudes toward the ag economy are met with optimism from those leaders who came to the Hill to make change.
Recap of policies
Upon arriving in the Capitol, OFBF members were taken on a roller coaster recap of the farm economy as well as a slurry of policies to be considered, to which Nathan Brown, of Highland County, said it was enough to make your head spin.
Farmers know about these policies and how important they are, but having them all laid out at once just reiterates the importance of the issues.
Kevin Henry, of Logan County, said a lot of the proposed legislation and regulations coming down the pipeline are “scary.” Henry is a third generation farmer who farms 3,500 acres of corn and soybeans and raises dairy cattle with his family.
People are making decisions about important issues based on public opinion instead of science. “We have too many people who don’t know enough about ag and that’s why we are here,” he said.
Adam Sharp, executive vice president of OFBF, and Frank Burkette, OFBF president, said the county presidents’ trip is important for multiple reasons. It gives county leaders an idea of how the regulatory process works, it gives them an opportunity to advocate for their fellow farmers back home, and build relationships with the elected officials who represent their counties, explained Sharp.
So what’s on farmers’ minds? With the new administration, farmers are concerned with the type of policies that will be put into play, particularly those surrounding trade, immigration and the new farm bill, explained Sharp.
Trade has been a hot topic among farmers. “Trade is important, we don’t want to go backwards,” said David Salmonsen, senior director of congressional relations for the American Farm Bureau Federation. With the Trump administration throwing out TPP, there is still uncertainty in the future of trade.
According to Salmonsen, as it stands now, we don’t have a clear idea of where trade policies are heading, but OFBF members want to make sure it is on the minds of their legislators.
“Trade, as a young farmer, is a big deal,” said Brown. When he traveled to China and Vietnam, Brown saw firsthand how important it is to have trade relations.
“I was for TPP,” he said. “If we start getting into trade wars” it could mean bad news for farmers.
When those trade disputes break out, countries start picking sensitive crops to pull out, explained agricultural economist Matt Roberts.
Roberts doesn’t foresee a decrease in foreign interest in commodities like pork, beef and soybeans, but if a trade war were to break out with a country such as China, soybeans would make an attractive target, he said.
“We are all concerned with the trade aspect,” said Michael Kauffman, president of Wayne County Farm Bureau. “As important as exports are for us, we also need to look at imports.”
“We don’t always look at the big picture, but we need to look at what’s in the best interest of everyone to make it better.”
Of course, as the preparations are being made for the new farm bill, there is a lot of concern around farm safety net programs like crop insurance and the Dairy Margin Protection Program.
According to John Newton, director of market intelligence for AFBF, “the dairy safety net is broken.” Last year dairy producers paid around $100,000 million in premiums and only received $12 million back in payments. Milk prices fell by half and MPP couldn’t make up for the loss because of the decline in corn, soybeans and wheat prices as well.
AFBF is proposing the Dairy Revenue Protection plan, which will be submitted to the USDA in April, that will offer dairy farmers more options. Farmers will have four decisions on how to cover their milk. Producers can set a milk price to insure (based on market price), the amount of milk to cover, a coverage level and which quarters they wish to insure.
Newton said this is not a replacement to MPP, but another option for dairy farmers.
“We need to fix dairy,” said Kauffman, who hails from a dairy heavy county. He is hopeful that a program similar to this can be put in place for farmers.
Other safety nets like crop insurance are also important to Ohio farmers. “Crop insurance has been important to me. I know that I am guaranteed to have enough revenue,” said Brown, who farms 1,100 acres of corn, soybeans and a little wheat.
Ron Burns, a grain farmer from Union County, commented on the tight margins and farm economy, another hot button topic among farmers. “We’ve been facing low prices for a few years now and we are just trying to get by,” he said.
Tough times force farmers to reevaluate their business plans, their cost of living and make decisions that will help their farms grow. And it’s all about passing that farm on to the next generation, said Burns.
Roberts said the farm economy “will be tough for the next few years. But the good news is, the good farmers will separate themselves.”
As county leaders prepare to meet with their district representatives March 15, these topics and many others will be on their minds. “It’s good to be here and talk with our (representatives), said Brown.
“A lot of this stuff is real and it matters to Logan County farmers,” added Henry.