What will the next federal farm bill look like?

That, said Congressman Michael Conaway of Texas, chairman of the House agriculture committee, is up to the people.

“This is your farm bill,” said Conaway to a packed house at Farmfest Aug. 3.

Conaway and 10 other members of the ag committee were in attendance to host a listening session in an effort to receive public comment about what those who have been impacted by the current farm bill see as the positives and negatives of that policy.

Among those who were in attendance, were representatives from many midwest states, including Kansas, Iowa, Illinois, South Dakota, and North Dakota, as well as one member from Pennsylvania.

In addition, four members of the committee from Minnesota, including Collin Peterson, Tim Walz, Rick Nolan and Tom Emmer, were on hand for the listening session. 

A variety of topics were discussed by farmers, commodity group representatives, business leaders and farm organizations ranging from the importance of maintaining the crop insurance provision to expanding disease prevention efforts to prevent major outbreaks in livestock.

“This is ground zero when it comes to agriculture,” said Peterson referencing the area where the listening session was taking place, adding he believes the Redwood Falls area is as good as, or better, than any other part of the country in terms of the ag industry.

Peterson and Conaway both expressed their desire to accomplish the new farm bill as soon as is possible. The current piece of agricultural legislation is set to expire in September 2018, and Conaway stated he has no desire to still be working on the farm bill anywhere near that deadline.

Peterson said before the actual work can begin the committee needs to receive Congressional budget office scoring that will help to establish its budget parameters as the work proceeds.

Kristi Noem, who represents South Dakota in Washington, D.C., said it is important for rural America to speak up, as she said there are only 36 members in Congress who represent what would be considered rural districts nationwide.

Kevin Paap, Minnesota Farm Bureau president, first to speak to the committee, talked about the importance of risk management tools, such as crop insurance. He added farmers are currently facing financial stress due to low commodity prices, and he said the best way to solve that is through creation of demand for those products. Trade is a key element of that solution.

“Fortunately, farmers grow more than they can use,” said Paap, adding that provides the opportunity to open up markets around the world for those products.

Conservation, nutrition and the maintaining of a strong safety net were issues Gary Wertish, Minnesota Farmers Union president, addressed as he spoke to the committee members.

Wertish said keeping the SNAP (supplemental nutrition assistance) program as part of the federal farm bill is critical. He added a high percentage of rural Americans are utilizing SNAP compared to the more urban areas.

Maintaining SNAP was reiterated by many who work with food programs, such as Emily Piper, Minnesota Department of Human Services commissioner.

“There are 645,000 Minnesotans, that’s 12 percent of our population, who use SNAP,” said Piper, adding the majority of those people are children, seniors and those with disabilities.

Duane Anderson, Farmers Union Industries (FUI) president and CEO, talked about the value of the rendering industry.

“Since 1929, FUI has done business that supports grain farmers and livestock and poultry producers across the midwest by turning their non-edible production into high-value products,” said Anderson, adding rendering accounts for $10 billion in economic activity each year.

Anderson expressed support for a strong renewable fuel standard, stressed the importance of making decisions that allow the nation’s farmers and ranchers to remain competitive, addressed enhancement of exports and implored the committee to ensure animal byproducts and used cooking oil are not considered waste in any food waste legislation.

Darwyn Bach, a Yellow Medicine County farmer and member of the Land Stewardship Project, spoke about its priorities.

“The Land Stewardship Project is working for a farm bill that puts family farmers, the land and our rural communities first,” said Bach. “We want a farm bill that does not encourage and subsidize the corporate farming model that continues to squeeze the profits out of family farms.”

Bach said the group’s priorities are a strong beginning farmer and rancher program, an improved Conservation Stewardship Program, direct EQIP dollars to family farmers and limits on crop insurance subsidies.

Paul Kvistad, a Wood Lake area turkey farmer, spoke on behalf of the poultry industry and emphasized the need for more disease prevention efforts. He said the Avian flu outbreak that hit Minnesota’s poultry farmers was devastating, adding the impact is still being felt today especially related to export markets.

Having a prevention program that helps to address potential outbreaks before they happen can help to give confidence to those around the world again and will help to improve the export markets and the overall ag economy.

Many organic farmers spoke of the need to enhance farm bill options for what is the fastest growing part of the a industry, and many emphasized the need to create an enforcement arm that oversees potential fraud that is damaging those who are doing organic production the right way.

Katie Benson, Minnesota State FFA president, expressed the need for a program that supports the future of agriculture – today’s youth. She said there are thousands of career opportunities in agriculture that are going unfilled every year, and the development of a coordinator position would help bridge the gap and let the next generation see what is available in the ag industry.

Collin Peterson, House ag committee ranking member, thanked the members for coming to Farmfest at the end of the two-and-a-half hour listening session, as did Michael Conway.

In a follow-up press conference Conaway stated the importance of creating a farm bill that has the producer and the consumer in mind.

“Part of our mission in the farm bill is to help the American consumer,” said Conaway.

The testimony from the listening session will be added to other input the committee has received. Others may also visit the U.S. House ag committee Web site at agriculture. house.gov to submit additional comments.