With the 2023 Farm Bill in the works, Glenn “GT” Thompson (R-PA), chair of the House Ag Committee, gathered eight members of the committee during the Pennsylvania Farm Show to hear the concerns of industry stakeholders. The event drew a standing room only crowd of primarily farmers.
David Smith, Pennsylvania Dairymen’s Association, highlighted four important topics for the dairy industry. “Workforce is a vital issue in the agriculture industry and particularly the dairy industry,” he said. “Having a reliable workforce on our dairy farms is absolutely essential, and it’s vital that we have an essential worker program that fully complements the needs of dairy farms with a year-round workforce. Current programs are designed for seasonal workforce schedules – production on dairy farms continues daily.”
Smith also discussed crop insurance programs and the dairy margin program. “The dairy margin protection program has been an important risk management tool for dairy farm families,” he said. “This will continue to be a goal for the next Farm Bill. Supplemental DMC was a step in the right direction for updating production history, but dairy farmers need the opportunity to better reflect their current production by reestablishing production history based on current production status.”
Smith added that with increased feed costs, the $9.50 margin cap no longer provides the protection it did five years ago.
FMMO reform is another prime dairy issue. “Each time dairy markets do not behave as the industry would like and milk prices decline, there is an inevitable push to have meaningful Federal Milk Marketing Order reform,” said Smith. “One of the main premises of the FMMO system was to ensure orderly marketing for dairy farms. Many in the dairy industry believe this premise failed and has led to a loss of dairy farms across the country.”
Smith proposed the industry be allowed to address FMMO reform through the existing USDA hearing process. While he admitted this would be a lengthy process, the extra time would allow industry professionals to examine each proposal more thoroughly for a lower chance of negative unintended consequences, like those that occurred with the milk class equation authorized by the 2018 Farm Bill.
Frank Stoltzfus, Pennsylvania Cattlemen’s Association, brought up several points to be included in next Farm Bill, including risk management programs, disaster recovery programs and conservation programs.
“We want a voluntary conservation program that recognizes what producers have already done nationwide and will continue to do,” said Stoltzfus. “We want to support implementation of these practices, free from government mandates.”
He also mentioned protecting animal health through programs that guard against the spread of foreign animal diseases. This includes support for the National Animal Vaccine and Veterinary Countermeasures Bank, which currently houses the foot-and-mouth disease vaccine for American producers.
Stoltzfus said his organization is not necessarily in favor of a livestock title. “A livestock title would open the door to unnecessary regulations and mandates that could cause difficulty in getting the Farm Bill passed,” he said.
On the topic of climate change, Stoltzfus noted that beef cattle are a natural and efficient means of using land that is not suitable for crops. “Cows take blue sky and green grass to make red meat,” he said. “It’s protein that feeds the world.”
After stakeholders presented their cases, Congressman Austin Scott (R-GA) stated that his goal in working on the 2023 Farm Bill is to reduce risk for ag producers. “Prices for our commodities were set in the 2014 Farm Bill,” he said. “The costs of inputs are different today.” Scott hopes to address prices, loan rates and improve cash flow to reduce risk involved in production agriculture.
Congressman Doug LaMalfa (R-CA), ranking member in conservation and forestry, said the Farm Bill needs to be completed this year. He believes that conservation programs should remain voluntary and noted that dairy and beef producers are often vilified for methane.
“Don’t be pushed around,” he said. “You are a strong and viable part of the overall landscape. We appreciate grazing … that helps to keep fire down in forested areas. We want to make sure the U.S. Forest Service starts implementing forest management that makes a difference.”
Regarding the role of climate change in agriculture, LaMalfa related the statistic that CO2 as a component of the atmosphere is 0.04% – a minor uptick from the previous level of 0.03%. “If we’re going to do headstands to change agriculture because of growth of 0.01% CO2, we’re going to find ourselves not producing anything in this country,” he said. “We’re already in the direction of doing the most of any Western country to reduce carbon dioxide. We’re always trying to improve with better running engines … I’m concerned about the idea of electrical conversion of everything.”
Congressman Mark Alford (R-MO) believes food security means national security, and outlined four goals: “Make sure farmers are protected so citizens are fed, make sure children are healthy and we are all good stewards of God’s creation.”
Congresswoman Chellie Pingree (D-ME) stated that writing the Farm Bill is one of the most important bipartisan duties of Congress because it considers both food and farming. Pingree noted that Maine is home to numerous farmers, some small-scale, many of whom practice regenerative or organic agriculture. She said Maine farmers are interested in livestock processing facilities, funding for conservation programs, more streamlined processes for programs, access to healthy food, rural broadband and making sure farmers are treated as partners in climate change efforts.
Congressman Dwight Evans (D-PA) believes farmers are looking for opportunities, not giveaways, and emphasized the importance of SNAP. Dan Meuser (R-PA) discussed the importance of workforce development, broadband, energy and natural gas, trade, dairy and access to capital.
In closing, Pennsylvania Ag Secretary Russell Redding noted that the session addressed important issues such as nutrition, workforce, environment, jobs and quality of life. “All of that has to be captured in the Farm Bill,” he said. “Both rural and urban have to fit together.”
Redding emphasized the importance of equilibrium and making sure we protect animal agriculture and find the link between farmers and consumers. “You can’t have a charitable food system unless the food system is charitable,” he said.
Thompson concluded that a successful Farm Bill involves everyone working together – “having your voice, your perspective and your experiences,” he said. “American agriculture is science, technology and innovation.”
Farmers can provide Farm Bill feedback to the House Ag Committee at agriculture.house.gov.
by Sally Colby