Listening to a roomful of farmers – some actively engaged, some retired and others somewhere in between – discuss the farm bill makes it easier to understand why Congress hasn’t reached agreement on the legislation.
There was general, but not unanimous, agreement crop insurance subsidies should be continued. And there was agreement among the two dozen or so people at U.S. Rep. Bruce Braley’s farm bill listening post at the Independence Public Library Aug. 21 that Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) – food stamps – should be continued.
Braley’s audience was divided on linking participation in farm programs to conservation and how best to help beginning farmers.
Braley, a fourth-term Democrat now running for the Senate, finds the delay in passing a five-year extension of the farm bill vexing.
“It’s a very frustrating time,” he said. “A year ago, I was doing the same listening posts, waiting for a farm bill to come to the House floor.”
The Democratic-controlled Senate and Republican-controlled House couldn’t find agreement on a five-year extension, so it settled on a one-year agreement.
The situation may be less promising this year, he said, because House leadership has not sent its version of the farm bill to conference committee to work out differences with the Senate.
“I understand why people are frustrated, but that doesn’t mean we can give up,” he said. “We need to keep working to bring people together.”
Several farmers agreed with Mark Recker, who farms near Arlington, that continuing the farm bill crop insurance program is a no-brainer. However, Richard Zieser of Rowley wasn’t so sure taxpayer-subsidized crop insurance is the best policy. It has allowed “ground hogs” to expand their operations while minimizing their risk.
Nick Podhajsky of Traer is a fan of crop insurance.
“It’s one of the few things we’ve seen the government do well,” he told Braley, “and I’d hate to see it screwed up” by requiring farmers to participate in conservation programs. Conservation compliance rules “sound good, but implementation-wise it opens a can of worms.”
Several speakers called for more assistance for beginning farmers, citing high land prices and cash rent as impediments. Brett Lorenzen of the Environmental Working Group said he and his siblings are unlikely to sell their family farms in Clinton and Jackson counties.
“We’ll rent it, but no young farmer is going to be building equity,” he said.
That’s a problem, added Ashley Sherrets, who works for the Iowa State University Extension in Buchanan County on beginning farmer programs.
“We don’t want to just rent, but own the land,” she said.
Besides, said Richard Machacek of Winthrop, there’s no way young farmers can go out and pay $400 per acre cash rent.
“There are several trillion dollars of assets that will be transferred in coming years,” he said. Without assistance for beginning farmers there will be more concentration in agriculture.
It would help if the farm bill included a beginning farmer loan program for livestock producers, said Justine Stevenson of the Iowa Cattlemen’s Association.
The current farm bill expires Sept. 30. If Congress fails to act by that date, existing agricultural programs will end and farm policy will revert to the programs outlined in the 1949 Farm Bill.
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