“We need to get this farm bill done,” said Congressman Glenn Thompson. Thompson’s district in Centre County, Pennsylvania is larger than the five smallest states. “Farm income is down over 50 percent over the past number of years and that is unacceptable.”
In a little more than a year, Oct. 1, 2018, the current Farm Bill expires. As Agriculture Vice Chair in the U.S. House of Representatives, Thompson said, “If we’re doing our job right, we’ll have a robust rural economy. Right now, our economy is not robust; it is actually hurting, and is struggling. We are outnumbered. A whole lot more people live in urban areas than live in rural areas, but without a robust successful rural America, people in the cities are going to wake up in the cold, in the dark, and hungry, because we meet their needs.” He made this observation at a mid-September farm breakfast in Lancaster County.
Acknowledging that dairy is Pennsylvania’s number one commodity, he added “dairy is hurting, and it has been. The Margin Protection Plan has not worked.”
According to USDA, “…the Margin Protection Program for Dairy Producers (MPP-Dairy) replaces MILC and is effective through Dec. 31, 2018. The Margin Protection Program offers dairy producers: Catastrophic coverage, at no cost to the producer, other than an annual $100 administrative fee; and various levels of buy-up coverage. Catastrophic coverage provides payments to participating producers when the national dairy production margin is less than $4 per hundredweight (cwt). The national dairy production margin is the difference between the all-milk price and average feed costs. Producers may purchase buy-up coverage that provides payments when margins are between $4 and $8 per cwt. To participate in buy-up coverage, a producer must pay a premium that varies with the level of protection the producer elects.” Thompson feels it might have worked “significantly better” if those outside the ag community hadn’t “messed with it.” In response to a question from his audience, the questioner said that small dairy farms are fighting for their lives. Thompson said, “Small dairy farms are good for America. In a day where you don’t know where the risks are, the risk is spread among smaller farmers. Smaller farms are much better, but that doesn’t make it a fair fight. Three or four years ago, probably the third year of the [Gov. Tom] Corbett administration, Pennsylvania was the only state to increase its number of dairy farms. But it just goes to show how challenged dairy has been across the country.”
Thompson also took a few minutes to rail against what he called “chalk water,” the concoction served in schools that is supposed to pass for milk, a contrivance which, Thompson says has no nutritional value. He would like to see milk with some fat content served in schools. “Every child deserves access to nutrition. Milk fat is nutritional. The best thing we can do for our dairy farm families would be to have the newest generation of kids fall in love with milk, the taste of it, and then go home and ask mom and dad to buy a gallon and put it in the refrigerator.”
He maintains that this would be the single most important thing that can be done for the dairy industry, “and to influence the market.” Frankly, he said, if it didn’t come from a mammal, it isn’t milk. “I’ll be more frank,” he added, “if I’m on the run in the morning, I do grab a handful of almonds, but I never tried to milk one.”
The Congressman also urged implementation of some type of vaccine for hoof and mouth disease. “Not that we have a problem with that,” he said, “but given where we’re at today with trade and livestock that gets moved around, there could be a significant risk.”
Giving farmers an update on Waters of the United States (WOTUS), Thompson reported that there is a court stay citing that the Obama administration overstepped there. “Currently, the EPA and the Army Corps of Engineers are working to rescind that.” Recently, according to Thompson, all 12 appropriations bills were on the floor, and because time was running out, the bills had to become an omnibus bill. But, he said that he had voted for an amendment, to wit, “that no money may be spent by the EPA to retaliate against states for failing to comply with the Chesapeake Bay WIP III (Watershed Implementation Plan Phase III).” Thompson said the EPA admitted that the Chesapeake issue is not about regulations, because it was states that came together, and somehow EPA seized control” under Obama. Though Thompson jokes that the EPA initials stand for Excessive Punishment Agency, he doesn’t think the EPA as constituted under Trump is going to be much of a punisher.
The floods in Texas and Florida didn’t escape the Congressman’s notice either. “You shouldn’t have to worry about losing your house or where you’re going to sleep or where your next meal is coming from in this country,” he says. “The Farm Bill makes that happen. Rural America makes that happen. We have a grant program, FINI, Food Insecurity Nutrition Incentive, which is about a $100-million program. It allows our neighbors in need to be able to access fresh produce.”