Meat inspections, food supplies, development support and nutrition programs – all this and more depends on passing a farm bill sooner rather than later. Will Congress get to work, or will a minority of malcontents drive the bus over the cliff?
What’s it gonna take?
That’s the question rank and file National Farmers Union members asked Congress this week in Washington D.C. during the NFU Fall Legislative Fly-In.
What’s it gonna take to get a farm bill?
I was there a year ago when Farmers Union, Farm Bureau and a whole host of other farm groups came together to say “we need a farm bill now!”
The answer we got was “maybe someday.”
Since then, yesterday, today and tomorrow have come and gone, and we still don’t have one. What we got was an extension of the expired five-year farm bill guaranteeing nutrition funding, rural development funding, crop insurance, meat inspection, a commodity title that places a ground floor under most commonly grown grains, oil seeds and cotton, and funds USDAs daily operations.
That extension starts to run out at the end of the month.
It’s fair to say that some members of Congress, especially in the House, don’t care if there’s a farm bill now or ever. Their belief is that government is out of control and the only way to rein it in is a cold-turkey end to everything.
But without a farm bill there might not be turkey at all, or beef or pork.
That’s because the farm bill adds coherence to our nation’s supplies of food and feed grains. Turkey growers need grain for their flocks. Cattle and hog feeders need them too. (Think bacon.) In fact virtually every livestock operation in the United States and many other parts of the world relies on American supplies of grain, all of which depends in one way or another on help and support from the farm bill.
Farmers use provisions in the farm bill to prove to bankers they can repay money borrowed to put crops in the ground and harvest the finished product. That’s what makes farm bill target prices and crop insurance so important.
Consumers rely on USDA inspection to keep food safe.
Rural people, along with everyone who travels through rural America or eats things grown there, depend on USDA loans for rural development for things like sewage disposal and clean water.
Schools, children, low income working families and elderly Americans count on USDA for help with food bills. About 90% of food aid goes to citizens like them.
Senators and representatives alike have already agreed to budget cuts. Those cuts have been a foregone conclusion for two years. But a small percentage of House members have decided it’s better to drive the bus over a cliff than keep it in the middle of the road.
Everybody, hang on.
It may be cooler heads that prevail. This year’s Farmers Union Legislative Fly-In was interesting because every member of Congress I spoke to said they agree. We need a farm bill. Some said it would happen in October. Others put it out to January. But there’s still that underlying current of discontent from the minority that threatens to carry us down the river and over the falls.
Last year Congress extended the old farm bill. Everyone said this week that another extension is an awful approach to good legislation. Republicans in the House still want to treat nutrition as an issue separate from farms by pulling the food stamp program out of the farm bill. The Senate has its own bill that keeps those programs together.
The National Farmers Union believes that taking food out of the farm bill is like saying gasoline has nothing to do with cars.
That brings up another point. Energy independence through biofuels can only be achieved through a comprehensive long term farm bill.
Get the picture?
Another issue was also on the front burner during the Farmers Union Fly-In this week. Farmers don’t just think about farming all the time. We think about our families and the future, too. We don’t live forever, and we get old like everyone else. Something that’s very important to farmers and their families is Social Security. Those pesky naysayers in Congress who don’t like government want that to end too. That’s why the Farmers Union is teaming up with AARP to help find an answer to save Social Security for generations to come. There are ways to do that.
But first you have to try.
That was the message carried to Congress this week by hundreds of plain old Farmers Union farmers from across America, even including the states of Alaska and Hawaii. We (farmers, Americans, the world) need a farm bill, Social Security … and leadership.
Richard Oswald, a fifth generation farmer, lives in Langdon, Missouri, and is president of the Missouri Farmers Union.