What is in this article?:
- First farm bill conference meeting held.
- Regional differences surface.
- Nutrition program funding a major hurdle.
Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, a veteran of eight farm bills, favors conservation compliance – meaning farmers receiving taxpayer money must practice conservation on their land. “The vast majority of producers already (are involved in conservation). Are we going to say to the few that might be bad actors that they can still get their insurance and stuff” and not be involved in conservation?
Harkin also touched on nutrition program funding. “The fact is, we have a lot of low-income people out there, a lot of kids. People say, ‘There are a lot of single adults out there and they should be working before they get food stamps.’ We learned a long time ago that there are a lot of people out there that have been deinstitutionalized, that have mental health problems. They can do a bit of work here and there but they can’t hold full-time jobs. Yet, we made the decision a long time ago to provide them with access to food. … They don’t qualify for disability but they can’t work full-time. They fall into a grey area.”
Harkin wrapped up saying that Americans have “always looked to this committee to ensure we don’t have beggars on the streets.”
The rising average age of U.S. producers is of particular concern to Minnesota Rep. Tim Walz. “We must look at long-term demographics. There will be nine billion people on the planet, soon. That’s a 60 percent increase in food that we’ll need. The American farmer averages 57 years old. The average web-site producer is 35. You can’t eat web-sites. … We (must have) robust beginning farmer and rancher legislation.”
Texas Rep. Mike Conaway laid out five goals for the conference.
- Cutting the budget.
- Crop insurance.
“We better not screw up crop insurance. Crop insurance has already been reduced by some $17 billion in spending since 2008. That’s enough.
“Due to Brazil’s WTO case, crop insurance is about all my cotton farmers have left.”
- A strong commodity title.
“Unfortunately, there is a lot of misinformation about planting distortions. We’ve gotten this far in the farm bill process with zero thanks to the groups who recklessly obsessed over this issue. They ought to know that nobody at this table is talking about going back to pre-1996, when farmers had to plant for the farm bill. They also ought to know that the House and Senate farm bills both use planted acres while capping them at different levels.”
- Food stamps.
“I’m not so much concerned about (reduced funding) as I am about getting policies that promote work and dignity in the effort.”
- Regulatory burdens.
“Throughout the conference I will be working to avoid placing additional undue regulatory burdens on our producers.”
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Oregon Rep. Kurt Schrader had a warning for his fellow conferees. “If we don’t get this job done here, I can guarantee you (House and Senate leadership) will be glad to get it done. They do not know what you know about nutrition. They do not know what you know about farm country policy.
“If we do not reach agreement in a bipartisan manner – emphasizing what we agree on not what we disagree on – we will lose control of the farm bill and we’ll have disaster before us.”