Bill Knight column for Thurs., Fri., or Sat., Feb. 14, 15 or 16
This week the National Farmers Union’s executive board is meeting in Washington, D.C., with various members of the 113th Congress to stress the importance of working on the passage of a five-year Farm Bill, and the corporate side of agriculture is stepping up its own activities in support of passage, of some action different than the previous, do-nothing Congress.
NFU President Roger Johnson has been angry with the lack of action for months and expressed his frustration last month after the Tax Relief Extension Act (the “fiscal cliff” bill) was passed containing a stopgap extension of the Farm Bill.
“Once again, Congress has left rural America out in the cold,” he said. “An extension represents a short-sighted, temporary fix that ultimately provides inadequate solutions that will leave our farmers and ranchers crippled by uncertainty.”
The partial extension of the 2008 Farm Bill is scheduled to expire on Sept. 30.
“The legislation that passed [in January] fails to provide disaster aid for farmers or necessary support for our dairy industry, yet continues unjustifiable direct payments,” Johnson continued. “The bill also does not provide mandatory funding for the energy title, specialty crops and organic provisions, and new important programs for beginning farmers and ranchers.”
NFU activists want to ensure that passage of a Farm Bill doesn’t get overlooked again as a result of Capitol Hill’s political paralysis or its continued focus on the budget, sequestration and debt crisis. NFU staff and family farmers are meeting with members of Agriculture Committees of both the Senate and House of Representatives on the need for them to do their work and complete a comprehensive, five-year Farm Bill as soon as possible.
Area lawmakers U.S. Reps. Cheri Bustos (D-Rock Island) and Steve King (R-Kiron, Iowa) serve on the House Agriculture Committee.
Johnson and staff began sessions with new members of the Agricultural Committees, including U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.), recently named the new ranking member on the Senate Agriculture Committee.
“Our meeting with Senator Cochran was helpful and we applaud his dedication to the Senate Agriculture Committee and to the passage of a Farm Bill that will work for all areas of the country,” Johnson added. “We look forward to continuing to meet with other members of both Committees until the Farm Bill is on the president’s desk.
“At this early juncture of the 113th Congress, we want to get a head start on highlighting the need and urgency for a Farm Bill,” he said. “It would be truly shameful to be placed in a situation similar to last year, when work on a Farm Bill was stopped dead in its tracks. We will continue to press Congress long and hard until a bill is finally passed.”
Besides family farmers and their various mass-constituency groups, agribusiness is stepping up its own lobbying efforts, too.
A diverse coalition of corporate-cozy agricultural trade organizations that came together during the Farm Bill debate more than four years ago as “Farm Policy Facts” last week announced that they are increasing education endeavors for voters and legislators.
The Farm Policy Facts groups include the American Sugar Alliance, the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, the National Association of Wheat Growers, the National Cotton Council, and the USA Rice Federation, plus two member groups new to the coalition: the National Crop Insurance Services and the Southwest Council of Agribusinesses.
“The unifying messages we will rally behind, regardless of Farm Bill politics, is the positive role that agriculture has and will continue to play in the economic recovery, the huge return on investment taxpayers see from farm policy and the disproportionate funding cuts that agriculture has already shouldered,” said former House Agriculture Committee Chairman Larry Combest, who works with Farm Policy Facts.
Johnson, whose NFU represents family farmers, shared some common ground.
“Farmers, ranchers, rural communities and all Americans deserve better and would have been better served with a new five-year Farm Bill,” he said. “It is truly a shame that the bipartisan work of both the Senate and House Agriculture Committees has been summarily and entirely discarded. Not only was that work far better than what has passed, it also provided meaningful deficit reduction.”
[PICTURED: NFU president Roger Johnson, from the Oklahoma Farm Report.]