Sam Clovis and Kathleen Merrigan covered a lot of issues in their forum hosted by the Farm Foundation on Wednesday morning at the National Press Club in Washington.
I wasn't at the event, but listened to it over a webcast. My kids got to hear about waters of the U.S. over breakfast. They thought we argue over funny stuff in agriculture.
When it comes to the farm bill, the two surrogates for the presidential race both highlighted areas where funding and programs should be boosted.
Clovis, an Iowan who is a co-chair for Donald Trump, caught my attention when he said more resources were needed in the next farm bill for broadband in rural America. This would help technology on farms, such as drone use. Broadband is a critical issue, he said.
"It's hard to run a business without broadband operations today," Clovis said.
Kathleen Merrigan, former deputy secretary of USDA in the first Obama administration, said Clinton has proposed doubling the funding for beginning farmer and rancher programs and increasing farm-program support for veterans. Clinton also supports increased investment in some conservation programs, specifically citing the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, or EQIP.
"She understands that there is a reason to help farmers be land stewards and cost-share conservation practices," Merrigan said.
Clovis surprised when he indicated that farm policy is going to have to take a look at "weaning ourselves" from price supports. That's a bold statement at a time of low farm prices. He noted there wasn't as much in the farm bill as their used to be concerning price supports.
Clovis also took on a question about what should be done regarding the farmers who aren't good stewards of the land. He said too much marginal ground was put into production when prices were higher. That translate into a lot fertilizer and chemicals moving downstream, he said. A lot of that land needs better conservation practices. He said more incentives were needed for conservation.
"I think there has to be, perhaps you incentivize conservation issues on this very much more right now, particularly when you have commodity prices that are low -- corn and beans in particular," Clovis said. "We're really looking at circumstances here where we won't put as much ground into production. That would be helpful in and of itself. But we probably have to take a look at conservation issues so we can take that marginal land off the production aspect of it and that is one of the issues we will have to approach. This is a very complex issue."
Clovis and Merrigan had been asked about tying more conservation practices to crop insurance. That issue has been coming up more often and it will be interesting to see what groups end up proposing and whether the House or Senate Ag Committees have the appetite to further delve into a conservation-insurance link leading up to the next farm bill.
On nutrition, Merrigan praised the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program as a key tool for helping people in poverty. She noted it was "counter-cyclical" by nature and that fewer people are on SNAP now than in 2009 when President Barack Obama took office. That's because the economy has improved, but the lion's share that remain in the program are elderly, children and the disabled.
Clovis also went against GOP orthodoxy and said Trump and the campaign "have often talked about the fact we think the nutrition program has to be part of the farm bill. We think there is no other way to pass it otherwise."
That would deflate some sails in the House.
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