With the expiration of the current farm bill fast approaching – farmers and ranchers from across the country rallied on Capitol Hill Wednesday. They gathered to urge Congress to pass a new, comprehensive, five-year farm bill before farm programs expire on September 30th. The event was endorsed by nearly 90 organizations representing commodity and specialty crops, livestock, dairy, consumers, state and local governments, energy and biobased products, farm cooperatives and financial groups. Senate Ag Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow, House Ag Ranking Member Collin Peterson, Kansas Senator Jerry Moran, South Dakota Representative Kristi Noem and the leaders of 10 organizations addressed the crowd of nearly 500 farmers.
According to American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman – perhaps never in history of farm legislation had so many diverse farmer and rancher voices joined together for such a common call for action on a farm bill. Farm Bureau notes the farm bill isn’t just a bill for farmers – as USDA says one in every 12 American jobs is directly related back to the farm. In addition – the farm bill provides healthy food to millions of schoolchildren and nutritious options to families in need; and develops and expands trade with valuable foreign markets. The Farm Bill Now coalition also points out that the proposals currently pending in Congress address the need to get the nation’s fiscal house in order.
National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said the groups gathered Wednesday were all united on one thing – the need for a farm bill now. He said members of Congress who have been on the Hill a long time said there is plenty of time to pass a farm bill. Johnson said there’s no excuse for Congress not doing their job and called it detrimental to all of America since the farm bill is a food, energy and jobs bill. Following the rally – Johnson expressed hope that the enthusiastic response and high energy of the crowd made an impact. If House members didn’t get the message – Johnson says they might get it on Election Day.
Illinois farmer Garry Niemeyer – National Corn Growers Association President – called on Congress to do its job. He said Congress has known for more than 17-hundred days that the current farm bill would expire at the end of September – yet he had to get off the combine to gather in Washington to deliver the message that a new five-year farm bill is needed. Niemeyer noted that agriculture is one of the few bright spots in the American economy – and the farm bill provides the certainty farmers need to make plans for their operations.
Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance spokesperson David Masser said research funded by the 2008 Farm Bill has helped producers fight pests and diseases that threaten to destroy crops and has helped improve food safety programs. As a farmer – Masser said he would never plant in the spring and leave the crop to rot in the fall – but with the programs developed in the current legislation just beginning to see results – he said it would be just as irresponsible to stop their momentum. According to Masser – the programs can’t just be turned on and off like a light switch – they must continue uninterrupted to fully bear fruit.
United Fresh Senior Vice President of Public Policy Robert Guenther said the Farm Bill Now rally was an important opportunity to unite the ag community and send a message that farm bill action is necessary. He noted the fresh produce industry could lose funding for several critical programs – including pest management, marketing, trade, nutrition and research programs.
As a farmer and conservationist – National Association of Conservation Districts President Gene Schmidt told attendees he knows how important the farm bill is to the preservation of the nation’s critical natural resource base – the foundation of the world’s food supply. When dealing with the most extreme drought in more than 50-years – Schmidt said the farm bill could not be more critical. He called it the nation’s best defense in minimizing the drought’s impact. He said U.S. producers deserve to have a long-term framework providing them with the ability to effectively and efficiently manage natural resources for the years ahead.