For anyone who closely followed passage of the 2014 Farm Bill, which spanned over 2 years and countless revisions, it seems entirely too soon to be talking about the next Farm Bill. Unfortunately, that time will soon be upon us. The current version of the Farm Bill will expire in September of 2018, which means lawmakers have only 19 months to accomplish the lawmaking process.
If history is any indicator, it is never too soon to prepare.
This week House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway announced to Politico that he wants to get to work now, lest we end up like last time. To facilitate discussion, he plans to launch a series of meetings around the country. The meetings will be an opportunity for farmers to discuss with elected officials the issues facing agriculture and how the next Farm Bill can help.
Given the monumental task that is the Farm Bill, I actually think this is an excellent idea. Farmers should definitely have their opinions heard and input consider for legislation that is supposed to be aimed at their industry. Agriculture also faces a lot of hurdles right now, and the people who understand those issues best are the ones in the thick of it.
The Farm Bill cannot solve everything agriculture is dealing with, nor do I have all the answers (despite how I come across). But, if given the opportunity to speak with Congressman Conaway to highlight some realities about the current state of farming, this is what I would tell him.
Crop farmers are hurting right now.
The farm economy sucks. Farm incomes declined in 2015 and, when everything gets calculated for 2016, it is expected to continue to decline. Grain prices in particular have sunk to the cost of production, or in some cases, even lower. At the same time, input costs continue to climb. Something has to give. While the Farm Bill cannot fix all of that, it is important to keep in mind that rural Americans are struggling and we need some serious discussions and leadership to solve the problem.
Our dairy counterparts are also struggling.
Dairy farmers are also struggling financially right now. Due to an oversupply of product in the country, milk prices have dropped below the cost of production. With the cost of inputs rising and the regulations adding up, the industry is having a tough time. Dairies are going out of business across the country. Although prices are expected to slightly increase in 2017, the profit will be marginal. We need to consider carefully how we protect and support our dairy farmers.
Keeping crop insurance part of the Farm Bill is super important.
Hopefully, Congressman Conaway realizes this, but the weather is unpredictable. Our farm was hit with a drought in 2016, even when most other farms blessed with enough moisture. We work to manage risks on our own, but the federal crop insurance program is important to helping farmers manage the tough times. We need to make sure that it is preserved and fully funded going forward. In some ways, this is probably one of the most important parts of the Farm Bill.
There is a growing disconnect between the consuming public and modern agriculture.
The divide between consumers and farmers has been expanding as people become further removed from the farm. But this divide blew up and became more mainstream when social media became prevalent. To find proof, one needs to look no further than the non-GMO labels popping up on products across the grocery store, whether there is a GMO counterpart for that product or not. There are plenty of agvocates working hard every day to connect both sides and bridge the information gap. Yet there is still a lot of work to do, and people are being hounded by fear-based marketing more and more.
Trade is important.
There is a lot of discussion about trade right now, including ideas being floated around that we want to limit trade with other countries. I get that we may have some unfair trade deals and some people want to get rid of that. But agriculture relies on export markets, and it is important that we maintain those opportunities to sell our products. Trade might go outside the scope of the Farm Bill, but the importance of it should remain in perspective.
Agriculture needs immigration reform and solutions.
Much of agriculture, particularly fruits and vegetables, remain very labor intensive. Some farmers are struggling to find adequate workers for these jobs. We need a workable solution for agriculture’s labor needs. The current scheme is not meeting demand. It isn’t fair to force farmers into choosing between skirting the law or following it and not having enough workers. Nor is it fair for farmer workers to be hanging out under the radar. Again, this might be beyond the scope of the Farm Bill, but it is an issue agriculture is facing that we need to recognize.
Amanda Zaluckyj blogs under the name The Farmer’s Daughter USA. Her goal is to promote farmers and tackle the misinformation swirling around the U.S. food industry. Amanda’s website can be found here, and she’s on Facebook, and Twitter.