ASHLAND, Ohio — With the 2018 farm bill approaching, U.S. Rep. Bob Gibbs, R-Ohio, met with Ohio farmers and agriculture industry leaders Sept. 21, at Ashland University, to hear what matters most to them.
House Committee on Agriculture Chairman Michael Conaway, R-Texas, plans to have the 2018 farm bill done early next year, well before the expiration of the current farm bill Sept. 30, 2018, and Gibbs said he is optimistic that will happen.
“I think it will be easier to pass a farm bill this time around,” said Gibbs, noting that low commodity prices will be the main driver.
The Dairy Margin Protection Program (MPP) was the hot button topic with several Ohio farmers.
“I don’t think the program is ever going to be what the farmers want,” said Jim Rowe, Tuscarawas County Farm Bureau president and dairy farmer. Rowe said the current program puts all farm operations on the same level. Comparing a large-scale California dairy to a small eastern Ohio operation is “absurd,” he said.
Scott Higgins, chief executive officer of the Ohio Dairy Producers Association, said farmers are paying high premiums to be a part of the program and are not seeing the return when they need the protection most. “We’ve got more money going into (MPP) than what’s going out,” said Higgins.
He recommended four areas to consider when restructuring the MPP program. First, a revision of the feed formula used to determine producer payments.
The MPP program provides payments to dairy farmers when the national dairy production margin is less than $4 per hundredweight (cwt.), according to the USDA website. The national dairy production margin is the difference between the all-milk price and average feed costs.
Higgins suggested the data used to determine the average feed costs is not reflective of what producers are actually paying, particularly when looking into high quality alfalfa and hay costs.
Higgins also suggested the current premium rates are not reflective of a dairy producer’s ability to remain profitable when buying into the program, and the timeliness of when producers are able to buy in and opt out of the program should also be considered, offering producers different levels of commitment to the program.
And finally, Higgins said more risk management tools are needed for the dairy industry. Currently, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) does not list milk as a commodity, making it harder to get the risk management tools producers need.
“Overall, the feeling of producers is MPP is a failure,” said Matt Andreas, Ohio Dairy Producers Association board member.
Finding a milk market
Rowe also expressed the difficulties of finding a market for milk right now in a changing economy, citing companies like Dannon, which changed its marketing strategy to take only milk produced from cows eating non-GMO grains.
This leaves producers scrambling to find a feed source that provides the necessary protein they were getting for their herd from those genetically enhanced crops, he said. For dairies tied to companies like Dannon, “if they say jump, you have to or you lose your market,” said Rowe.
Conservation Reserve Program
Gibbs also addressed the need to improve the 2014 farm bill conservation policy.
Robert Clendening, Knox County Farm Bureau president and Knox SWCD program administrator, said they are up against a cap in Conservation Reserve Program dollars, which makes it harder to push conservation programs.
The best way to encourage farmers to implement conservation practices on their farms is to offer them incentives — like those through the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) — to make it worth their while to stop farming a particular piece of land and put in a buffer strip or waterway, explained Clendening.
“We are turning people away,” he said.
Other issues addressed during the roundtable discussion was a need to provide more insurance coverage options for specialty crops and offer more loan options for young and beginning farmers.
Gibbs also addressed a push for improvements to rural infrastructure, particularly better broadband access for rural America, and a need for more funding for agricultural research.
Congress will also be addressing the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), pushing to get more people off SNAP and into gainful employment, as well as cracking down on fraud in the system.
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