NCGA Farm Bill Strategies
WASHINGTON (DTN) — The nation’s corn growers need to tell the story of agriculture to members of Congress outside farm states and form alliances with others to pass the next farm bill, a group of veteran policy wonks told farmers Thursday.
At the National Corn Growers Association’s Corn Congress on Thursday, the NCGA delegates also called on President Joe Biden to maintain grower access to crop inputs by eliminating tariffs and certain regulations.
A panel discussion on farm policy included Dan Glickman, the agriculture secretary in the Clinton administration, former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and Richard Fordyce, the USDA Farm Service Agency administrator during the Trump administration.
They spoke broadly about their own careers, the future of farm policy and farmers’ ability to appeal to nonfarmers. Fordyce said now is the time to tell agriculture’s story to members of Congress without ag constituencies.
“We’ve never had a better time for advocacy. We can talk about climate-smart agriculture. Agriculture can truly be the folks on the white horse,” said Fordyce, a Missouri farmer. When he is on an airplane between Washington and Kansas City, Fordyce said, he could tell great stories, “That make agriculture look like a superstar on that whole flight.”
Heitkamp said the issue for the next farm bill is what initial incentives can be available to promote climate-smart agriculture. Ninety percent of the land mass of North Dakota is engaged in production agriculture, and climate programs could be another income stream, she said.
With inflation at 9.1%, driven heavily by the costs of fuel, food and supply chain problems, “We are in a very volatile time,” Glickman said. With both prices and costs highly variable, he added, “Commodity programs need to be flexible.”
Glickman said he doesn’t know what is going to happen in Ukraine and noted he didn’t realize the impact the loss of production from Ukraine would have on world markets.
Crop insurance needs to be “Nimble, flexible and understandable,” he added. But he said increasing the budget for agricultural research is also important because the U.S. agricultural research budget has been going down while China’s and Brazil’s research budgets have been going up.
Heitkamp said she is concerned about proposals to “condition” crop insurance on farmers engaging in certain practices to qualify for it.
“What we have right now is working. It is an essential safety net at a time of high input prices,” she said.
Heitkamp said the House and Senate agriculture committees will talk about food security and farm groups need to establish relationships with people who care about food stamps (now the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP) and conservation.
“Everybody who says take the food security provisions out of the farm bill doesn’t understand the farm bill,” Heitkamp said.
“There is a lot of interest among environmentalists in collaborating with you on carbon issues,” she added.
“The rule is do no harm, but don’t be afraid to collaborate,” she advised, adding that the corn growers should “take the lead and broaden the discussion.”
If nutrition programs were pulled out of the farm bill, the farm programs in the bill “would have much less support,” Glickman added.
“Not every congressional district has a farmer,” Heitkamp said.
With the continuing battle over rules such as EPA’s Waters of the United States, and more corporate ownership and consolidation, “You are going to need to build broader relationships,” Heitkamp said.
On the issue of aid to minority farmers, Heitkamp said, in reference to the lawsuits that were filed against that aid, “Don’t poke people in the eye.
“There (are) tons of inequity in government spending,” Heitkamp said. “If you want to build the relationships to maintain Title I and the forestry programs, you don’t need to take water in your boat that you don’t need to take on.”
Heitkamp added, “If I were in the Senate today and I were looking at long-term issues facing agriculture, land ownership would be one.”
She noted farmers are not dealing with just the grandparents and parents of people who did not become farmers, but land going into trusts and fractionalized interests.
She asked, “How do we keep farmers making decisions about this land” without interfering with property rights?