At the invitation of the Woodstock, CT Agricultural Commission, Congressman Joe Courtney (D) Second Congressional District met with members of the Commission and interested citizens to give them an update on the status of the Farm Bill as it works its way through Congress. It is interesting to note that the congressman is the first congressman from Connecticut to serve on that committee since the early years of the last century. From a national perspective New England agriculture is not highly regarded as a viable entity by some of those serving at the higher levels of the USDA as well as those in the halls of Congress, so having a person like Joe Courtney as an advocate is an invaluable asset.
The basement level meeting room of the Woodstock Town Hall was the site for this presentation at 7 p.m., Wednesday, Nov. 6. To suggest that the Farm Bill has moved at a leisurely pace would be something of an understatement. It is now a year overdue. For any business entity of similar size to operate in such a manner would incur the wrath of the stockholders to the point of demanding wholesale resignations at the highest levels of management. Two issues that seem to be particularly contentious at the moment are Nutrition and Dairy Security. The 11 billion reduction in the Food Stamp Program will have a significant impact on millions of low income families who rely on it. The impact of this is estimated to be $40 per month for the average family. It is Joe Courtney’s opinion that this reduction will stand, modifications are unlikely as this represents one of the famed political compromises that we read about.
The Dairy Security Act, as it is developing, would replace the act currently in place, with each chamber offering somewhat different versions. In the Senate version, large producers would be subject to a gradual tapering off in the level of support that they receive based on production, the higher the level of production the lower the level of support. The aim of this proposal would be to level off production, with the larger producer no longer rewarded for making more milk. In the House version this provision would be struck; a version processors favor for its replacement allows processors to purchase more milk at a lower price.
Immigration issues remain unresolved and this impacts farm labor issues directly, given the number of migrant laborers that make up the labor force on farms. At the moment there seems to be a broad consensus for a sensible solution to this issue in both chambers.
Bryan Hurlburt, state executive director of the Farm Service Agency of the USDA, joined Congressman Courtney in discussing some of the common issues they share. The Farm Service Agency has assumed responsibility for farm labor issues from the Department of Labor. Many groups joined forces to accomplish this change including the Farm Bureau, various church groups, labor organizations and ethnic groups.
The FDA has on the table a sweeping group of changes that will, if implemented as presently written, affect almost every produce producer in the country.
Once the new regulations are law, it is likely that the small producer will feel the greatest impact. As presently written, the producer with a gross income of under $25,000 will be exempt from the regulation but all those above that level must comply. Paper work will be a major factor — especially for those who never have had to record in detail all of the many jobs that make up their normal day.
At this time there is a bipartisan committee at work drafting a five year farm bill. Failure to pass the bill soon is certain to have an adverse effect on dairy prices.
As things move forward it appears that both the House and Senate versions will assist in reducing the deficit. If no action is taken, a potential conflict may develop between the Agriculture Committee and the Finance Committee with the latter group likely to view the absence of a Farm Bill as a cost saving.
Updates on all of the goings on in Washington are critical to everyone and for those with special interests, such updates may be even more critical. The information delivered at this meeting may prompt those in attendance to contact their legislators and offer their personal opinions as to how best to resolve issues that may impact them in a very direct way.