Written by: Dale McCall – RMFU President
The 2018 Food and Farm Bill will be written at a critical time for America’s farmers and ranchers. The financial stress hurting producers is increasing daily. During recent weeks, our members have been attending (and sometimes hosting) Food and Farm Bill listening sessions held by Senator Michael Bennet and his staff. Farmers and ranchers in Colorado are voicing their concerns about the policy process and offering their key concerns they believe Congress needs to address as lawmakers begin writing the 2018 Food and Farm Bill. Here are the chief concerns and priorities our members are putting at the forefront.
Keeping an Effective Safety Net
Overall, farm income is half of what it was three years ago. Commodity prices for program crops are in freefall, yet input costs remain high. An adequate safety net assures farmers a measure of income protection in the event of downturns in the prices they are forced to accept for their crops. Safety net programs can also help farmers weather widespread production losses. Americans enjoy food security and affordability thanks to the most productive farmers and ranchers in the world as well as the safety net programs that keep agriculture working as our most essential social and economic industry. It is worth noting that a safety net is absolutely essential to guarantee that reasonably priced food is plentiful and healthy for all of our American citizens. Farmers and ranchers must have a safety net that makes it possible for them to put hard cash into their production costs. Current farm commodity prices do not meet the cost of production, which means that many farmers and ranchers cannot stay in business.
Continuing Conservation Reserve Programs
These programs are critical in encouraging farmers and ranchers to take actions to reduce erosion, increase water quality, and expand wildlife habitat. These programs are heavily used on the Eastern Plains of Colorado and in adjoining states. In Colorado, CRP payments have been increasing since 2011, effectively demonstrating that conservation programs are being put to good use and are benefitting local and regional communities.
Including the Consumer Nutrition Title
Just as farmers and ranchers need a safety net, so do eligible low-income families. From school nutrition programs to others that keep hunger at bay in economically marginal homes, SNAP has been – and must be – a critical component of the Farm Bill. Just as America has financial, military, energy, and education policies, we need a comprehensive food safety net policy that works for producers and consumers. The Nutrition Title must remain as part of the Food and Farm Bill. We must not allow Congress to separate the overall Nutrition Title from the Farm Bill.
Providing Credit Availability
As financial stress builds across the nation’s heartland, farmers and ranchers, along with their lending institutions, are planning ahead for difficult times. Adequately funded guaranteed loan programs are an essential tool that can make the difference between a farmer going broke or going on. When agriculture suffers, so do the thousands of rural communities whose economic lifeblood is equally tied to the land. Also, there is a growing need for credit availability for non-traditional farmers and ranchers including, but not limited to, young farmers in both rural and urban areas.
Maintaining Research and Rural Development
Each of these represents an excellent investment of federal funding when it comes to keeping all of America economically and socially healthy. Research programs by land grant universities are key in identifying and then preventing or solving problems and strengthening farm income by increasing production, expanding market opportunities, and developing varieties that thrive while using less water. Rural development programs are the investments that keep hometowns and rural counties from falling behind in offering their residents equitable services such as healthcare, technology, transportation, and education. These services deliver benefits for the common good.
Committing to Renewable Fuels
Ethanol is leading the way in generating jobs in rural communities and expanding cash markets for crops. Along with wind and solar, ethanol is coming of age considering the decreasing cost of production, convenience, and critical mass in the marketplace. The United States needs to put renewable fuels at the forefront of energy and security priorities.
I will close by noting that farmers and ranchers are deeply concerned that this bill may well be written by lawmakers who are new to the agriculture policy process and who may approach this task with budget-driven or philosophically-driven priorities. The Farm Bill must be written to work for the families and ranchers who literally grow economic activity from the ground up. Farmers and ranchers are equally concerned that agriculture may take a disproportionate cut in funding relative to other federal priorities. USDA programs are equally important, if not more so, than those of any other federal department.
Finally, farmers and ranchers across our region worry that potential trade wars and immigration policies have that potential to cause them long-term harm. Our RMFU members in all agricultural sectors in Colorado, New Mexico, and Wyoming are struggling in being able to hire workers. Although other federal legislation addresses immigration policies, we must insist that the supply of agricultural workers needs to increase so we can adequately produce and harvest the nation’s food and fiber.
Please note that the issues I have addressed at this time are not comprehensive in nature. RMFU will be developing a more itemized, detailed list of priorities for the new Food and Farm Bill. The topics I’ve mentioned here are overall in scope.
We must demand that Congress and the Administration recognize the importance of agriculture and food and nutrition to the economic vitality of America.
We at Rocky Mountain Farmers Union are here to work with our members and lawmakers as the 2018 Farm Bill process begins. Be sure to join us. We can put you at the policy table.
Your comments are always welcome. Either email me at firstname.lastname@example.org or call 970-381-0720. I’m listening.
– RMFU President Dale McCall