WASHINGTON — Many of the legislators crafting the 2023 Farm Bill are new to Congress and new to farm bill debates. Even so, leaders from the U.S. House and Senate Ag Committees say they’re determined to get a farm bill passed by September, when the 2018 Farm Bill is due to expire.
The farm bill is a priority issue for county farm bureau presidents and state board members from Ohio who traveled to Washington March 7-9.
House Ag Committee Chairman Glenn Thompson, a Pennsylvania Republican, spoke to the group during a forum on farm issues.
“I want us to do what is our job, and that is to get this thing done, passed, on time, so we have no disruption,” he said.
Thompson stressed that the 2023 Farm Bill must address the changing needs of American farmers as they face rising input costs and narrowing margins. He said he’ll be looking for ways to protect and improve crop insurance and strengthen the bill’s Title 1 commodity programs.
“I think Title 1 needs more investment,” he said.
Thompson also said he’s looking for better ways to help farmers dealing with weather disasters.
“We do emergency relief, but there is no guarantee that emergency assistance is going to come,” he said.
Too often, disaster assistance becomes a “political football” and help is delayed, he said. “At least part of that disaster relief we can incorporate into crop insurance.”
Based on Congressional Budget Office projections, the price tag for 2023 Farm Bill programs will be an unprecedented $1.5 trillion over 10 years. Of that, 83%, about $1.2 trillion, is expected to be spent on nutrition programs, with the remainder devoted to agriculture programs such as crop insurance and commodity programs.
Thompson said he’s looking at various funding sources to help cover the cost of the farm bill, including the American Rescue Plan, the Inflation Reduction Act and the secretary of agriculture’s spending authority within the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Commodity Credit Corporation.
Thompson said his goal is to put together the programs that are needed for American agriculture with this farm bill.
“Then, I’ll exercise my leadership and we’ll thread the needle and I’ll lead that in terms of the financing and the politics. We’ll probably find that we’re not able to do everything that we want to do, but I’m not prejudging that.”
During their trip to Washington, the Ohio Farm Bureau leaders met with their U.S. representatives to discuss farm bill priorities, as well as other issues affecting Ohio farmers.
Ryan Yates, director of government affairs for the American Farm Bureau Federation, stressed the importance of those face-to-face meetings.
“We have a lot of new people we need to educate,” he told the group.
Since the last farm bill was passed in 2018, 238 new members have been elected to the House of Representatives. In the Senate, 22 members are new since 2018. Those new members of Congress bring with them many new staff members as well.
Because of the small Republican majority in the House, it would be possible, but very difficult, to get a partisan farm bill passed, Yates said. In the Senate, a bill can’t be passed without bipartisan support because of the slim Democratic majority.
Andrew Walmsley, senior director of government affairs for the American Farm Bureau Federation, said committee leaders in both the House and Senate are motivated to see a bipartisan bill passed. Senate Ag Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, a Democrat from Michigan, will be working on her last farm bill before leaving office, he said.
Republican leaders in the House are also pushing to get a bill written and passed.
“For the first time in a very long time we have a speaker who wants to get a farm bill passed,” Walmsley said.
The House Agriculture Committee has two members from Ohio: Democrat Shontel Brown, who represents the state’s 11th Congressional District and Republican Max Miller, who represents Ohio’s Seventh District. Brown began serving in Congress in 2021, and Miller started his first term this year, so neither has experience with previous farm bills.
Brown is already taking a leadership role in crafting this year’s farm bill as ranking member of the House Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities, Risk Management and Credit.
The Senate Ag Committee has an experienced member from Ohio, Democrat Sherrod Brown, who is working on the farm bill for the fourth time as a U.S. Senator.
He spoke to the Farm Bureau group on his approach to the farm bill. As he has in the past, he’ll be holding roundtable meetings around the state with Ohio farmers.
“I just listen for ideas,” he said.
Brown said he intends to continue the work he’s done on previous farm bills to help farmers.
“Technology and innovation in agriculture continues to advance,” he said. That’s one reason a new farm bill is needed every five years: “We need to modernize and update it.”
During their meetings with members of Congress, the farm bureau members focused on the organization’s farm bill priorities, based on policies developed by members. Those priorities include: increasing the baseline for farm bill program spending; maintaining a unified farm bill that includes nutrition programs and farm programs together; supporting risk management programs, including both federal crop insurance and commodity programs; and providing adequate USDA staffing and technical assistance.
Many of the county farm bureau leaders also brought examples of issues they see on their own farms or in their farm communities.
Steve Berk, a member of the Ohio Farm Bureau board from Montgomery County, said he doesn’t want to see crop insurance programs linked to a climate change agenda. He’s worried that production practices such as cover crops might be mandated for farmers who sign up for crop insurance, even if those practices don’t work well on their particular farms.
“We don’t want to see crop insurance linked up to something that would not be beneficial to farmers,” he said.
Brenda Mescher, the farm bureau president for Mercer County, said she wants to see updated administration of Farm Service Agency loan programs intended to help family farms. In addition to farming, she works off the farm for an agricultural lender. She said the FSA’s lack of staffing and reliance on outdated processing procedures is creating backlogs that make the loans unworkable for farmers who need them.
Mike Plotner, the president for Union County Farm Bureau, said he’s concerned about the loss of farmland to solar development, and that industrial development is also displacing farmers in the state, creating more competition for existing farmland and pushing prices higher.
Barbie Casey, the vice president for the Butler County Farm Bureau, pointed out the recent loss of Ohio’s only wholesale market for wool is an example of the breakdown in America’s supply chain, which limits opportunities for farmers.
The group also shared concerns about other issues affecting farmers in Ohio, including the train derailment in East Palestine; Waters of the United States, or WOTUS, rule changes that could expand wetland regulations; and contamination of soil and water by PFAS, or forever chemicals.
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