2013 Farm Bill Update

2013 Farm Bill Update

For the first time since the Great Depression, the House of Representatives has voted down a farm bill. It is a sad day for what has traditionally been a bipartisan process—though we can all recall battles along the way, observers describe past farm bills as “beacons of bipartisanship in an increasingly rough and tumble chamber.” Not this time.  Critics came from the left and right, the President lobbied for savings from crop insurance, not food stamps and extremists from all quarters undercut efforts at consensus.  As one columnist cynically suggested:  “Let’s have an even more dysfunctional Congress. Something good may come of it.”   A Public Policy poll came out with a survey listing ‘Thirteen Things More Popular than Congress’ including traffic jams, NFL replacement referees, Donald Trump, root canals and colonoscopies.  Beyond the ‘blame games’ and the levity, it is a serious situation.  Look on news sites and find the five minute video of Frank Lucas, chair of the House Agriculture Committee, begging for twenty more votes so the Farm Bill could move to a House-Senate conference committee to resolve remaining issues.  Painful. With so much political rhetoric standing in the way of a solid five year farm bill, we need to contact members of the House to let them know how vital this is to an industry that is the Northwest’s largest employer and a mainstay to our economy.

I’ve heard from several customers who contacted House members shortly after receiving our letter last week.  Thanks for doing so!  Before the overall farm bill met its surprise defeat, the House  narrowly turned back attempts to reduce crop insurance and international food aid—issues where the voices of the people of agriculture were heard. Speaking out will be even more important now, with the setback in the House and time running short before expiration of the one year extension of last winter.   There is talk of another effort to pass a Farm Bill—it had been one of the few examples of both parties working together to reduce mandatory spending and, as Frank Lucas implored fellow House members, it is time to show an increasingly frustrated American public that needed work can get done.  Some legislators talk of another one year extension—which would put the farm bill in the middle of mid-term 2014 elections, perhaps necessitating yet another extension. Others say, ‘no way’ but alternatives such as accepting the Senate version before the two bodies go into conference appear unlikely.  A new farm bill from the House of Representatives now is a ‘must do.’

Here is what we can do right now that will make a difference:

  1. Contact our Representative, and other legislators from our state, and tell them we need a farm bill and we need a farm bill now.  A farm bill is really a Food Bill—important to America’s farm families, yes, but important to millions who rely on supplemental assistance (SNAP or food stamps) and to consumers around the country and around the globe who depend upon the agricultural plenty produced on our farms and ranches.  I remember pounding the podium at the Tri-State Wheat Conference last November to emphasize the urgency of what we all knew well back then—that we needed a farm bill right away.  The House stalled last winter—only coming up with a one year patch when the public grew frightened about $8/gallon milk—and further delays are unconscionable for hard working farm families who will soon harvest a crop and prepare to seed another without a vital safety net. It has already been a long, long wait and it is time for a Farm Bill now. Contact Info Sheet
  2. Remind them that crop insurance is a vital backstop against natural or economic disaster for farm families.  Ask them to support crop insurance as proposed by the House Agriculture Committee and by the Senate and to oppose any amendments that will limit its effectiveness.  Amendments that discourage farmers from participating shrink the risk pool and increase premiums for those who remain. Crop insurance is a remarkable public/private partnership and a good value for growers and customers.

Here is a bit of background information I have kept in mind when contacting legislators that may have some value:  Farm families have done their part to help reduce the deficit.  Funding for safety net programs, including direct payments—soon to be a memory, commodity programs and crop insurance dropped by two-thirds from 2000 to 2012.   Crop insurance has replaced emergency agriculture disaster bills—an expensive, cumbersome, untargeted way of managing disastrous losses but all we had available at the time.  Agriculture has had its share of hard times—as in 2006 when, for the first time since the Great Depression, a bushel of grain was worth less than a gallon of fuel.

Agriculture is an inherently risky enterprise—this spring alone we’ve had worries about potential crop damage from hot weather early in the spring, late season frigid nights while wheat heads were forming, and lower than accustomed precipitation.  It is the last industry in America to be dominated by family businesses—dedicated people with long traditions of wise stewardship of the land.  Crop insurance is expensive—as all of us who sign up and make the payments to manage risks well knowpremiums are significant and deductibles have to be met before it ever ‘kicks in.’ A ‘safety net’ partnership to manage risks a farm family cannot control is a wise investment for farmers, consumers, and for all Americans.

Here is a list of members of the House from the PNW and how they voted on the Farm Bill:

Idaho: Simpson, yes.  Labrador, no.

Oregon:  Walden, yes.  Schrader, yes. Blumenauer, no. Bonamici, no. DeFazio, no.

Washington:  McMorris Rodgers, yes. Hastings, yes. Reichert, yes. Herrera Beutler, yes. DelBene, no. Heck, no. Kilmer, no. McDermott, no. Smith, no. Larsen, absent.

Contact Info Sheet

I suggest each of us call or e-mail the office of our Representative, and other Representatives from our state with two messages—we need a Farm Bill now. We need crop insurance and ask that you oppose any measures that would harm this vital safety net.  My great-uncle Archie McGregor wrote back in tough times of pioneer days that “patience and persistence worketh wonders.”  We’ve been patient.  Persistence will win the day for farm families.  We will do all in our power to help.