OMAHA (DTN) -- As the country celebrated the 50th anniversary of National Ag Day on Tuesday, March 21, President Joe Biden signed a proclamation on Monday, March 20, while lawmakers in charge of drafting the next farm bill laid out some funding priorities and hard lines when it comes to spending.
Biden's proclamation cited programs his administration has advanced to help agriculture.
"On National Agriculture Day, we celebrate all the farmers, farmworkers, ranchers, fishers, foresters, and other agricultural workers who do so much to make our nation strong, fuel our economy, and steward our lands. America owes them," Biden said.
He also noted his administration is working to promote fair competition in agriculture while looking at anti-competitive practices and "working to secure the so-called 'right to repair' so farmers can fix their own machinery and tractors" and "making it easier for farmers to bring claims against exploitative poultry processors."
He pointed to investments the administration is making to expand small meat-processing operations and increase domestic fertilizer production, as well as help farmers through crop insurance "who are willing to risk double cropping."
At a policy conference Monday, March 20, in Washington hosted by Agri-Pulse Communications, the chairs and ranking members of the House and Senate Agriculture Committees also talked extensively about the budget challenges facing the current farm bill debate.
GT THOMPSON: FARM BILL SPENDING INVESTS
House Agriculture Chairman Glenn "GT" Thompson, R-Pa., in a recorded conversation, tried to balance the budget pressures facing Congress with the growing calls for more funding needed in nearly every section of the farm bill.
"Our national debt is a threat to our national security and it's time for some more adult behavior in Washington when it comes to some of the reckless spending that has gone on."
Thompson then stressed the farm bill doesn't fall into the category of reckless spending. "It's an investment and a return on investment that we get," he said. Thompson added that farm-bill spending is only about 2% of the federal budget.
"Whereas I absolutely support that we need to get our fiscal house in order ... we really shouldn't balance that on the backs of the hard-working farm, ranch and forestry families who work so hard to provide all of the certain things we need -- food fiber, building materials and energy."
Thompson was asked about whether the farm bill needs a permanent disaster program for farmers. He noted that delays in ad-hoc disaster relief can put farmers "bankrupt and out of business" as it sometimes takes lawmakers as long as two years to put together a relief package. He suggested bolstering both crop insurance and commodity programs as an option.
"What is it that we could incorporate into crop insurance so that, quite frankly by appropriately funding the farm safety net, we can avoid these costly, and quite frankly inadequate piecemeal payments?" he said.
Thompson chaired the nutrition effort in the House in 2017-18 that struggled to pass the House without any Democratic support. He said, "I believe the nutrition title represents a strong loan by neighbors to help neighbors in need."
Thompson added the farm bill will see proposals on SNAP "of all flavors and all degrees of politics." He also pointed to the assistance provided to food banks and food pantries.
"We need to use the SNAP benefits for what we've always done and that is to help families who find themselves in challenging financial situations to move to financial independence," Thompson said.
He noted work requirements have been in SNAP for decades, but there are waivers for people with young children or disabled people. He also noted roughly one-quarter of people on SNAP are "working poor because of the type of job that they have and all the money they are making. I believe those folks need an opportunity to find a better job and they need additional support. Quite frankly, they need a shot at the American dream."
Thompson added that SNAP "needs to focus on helping people eat healthy." There's a responsibility to encourage people to eat healthy foods, he said.
DAVID SCOTT: NO SNAP CUTS
Rep. David Scott, D-Ga., the ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee, appeared by video conference. Scott criticized an effort led by Rep. Dusty Johnson, R-S.D., who introduced a bill last week with 23 GOP co-sponsors to expand work requirements for people on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). "There is no way we are going to accept any cuts in this program," Scott said.
Scott pointed out that efforts to tighten SNAP eligibility come up in every farm bill debate. "It's almost like it's an enemy because it's the same thing," he said. "Now we've got Dusty Johnson in my own Ag Committee coming up with this proposal. We need to finally accept SNAP and right now, the last thing we need to be talking about is trying to get people off SNAP."
Scott noted able-bodied people ages 18 to 49 without dependents already have work requirements. "They cannot receive SNAP more than three months every three years unless they are working at least 20 hours per month."
Johnson's bill would raise the age requirements to age 65 and eliminate waivers used in 18 states to exempt people from the work requirements.
Turning to farming, Scott said, "Those who are producing food are going out of business at a rapid rate. We're losing 70,000 small ranchers and farmers every year." He added, "We have got to look at our system and provide help and strength where it is needed the greatest."
Scott stressed the need to focus more attention and support on smaller farmers. "What's going to happen? Are we going to end up with big operations doing the farming if we do not move to put a safety net with our farmers? That's what I'm working on."
STABENOW: CUT HERE, THEN CUT THERE
Senate Agriculture Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., who will leave Congress after 2024, said in a recorded interview that she has drawn her own line in the sand and if House Republicans want to cut SNAP, then every other part of the farm would have to take cuts as well.
"When we look at the five-year government commitment to agriculture -- this is large farms, small farms, everything in between -- and folks that want to get into agriculture, whether it's beginning farmers, whether new farmers or veteran farmers where somebody wants to carry out a multi-generational farm, we need to be doing everything we can to support all of them," Stabenow said.
Stabenow pointed out there are members of the Senate who have never voted for a farm bill, and there has been a high turnover in the House since the last farm bill.
"One of the things I'm concerned about, and this is certainly not coming from agriculture itself, but we see proposals to cut mandatory spending," Stabenow said.
Talking about SNAP, Stabenow added, "Every single program in the farm bill is mandatory spending and so that means crop insurance, that means commodity programs, that means the trade title, that means all of it. So, we've got to make sure that we don't lose the budget that we have."
SNAP spending has doubled since the last farm bill and is projected to cost about $1.2 trillion for roughly 41.2 million people. Stabenow pointed out the average SNAP benefit is about $6.10 per person, per day.
"That person is not putting that money into their pocket. It's going to the grocer and the processor and ultimately the farmer and so on."
BOOZMAN: PRODUCTION AG NEEDS RESOURCES
Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., noted farm bills have to be bipartisan or they get derailed. Regional differences play a factor. He repeated that the agricultural portion of the farm bill only accounts for about 18% of the farm bill budget while nutrition spending accounts for about 82%.
"It's going to be a challenge getting all of that sorted out as it is every year," he said.
Boozman, like Stabenow, said his goal is to get more votes than the 2018 farm bill, "Which is going to be difficult," acknowledging the work Stabenow and former Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kanas, did in shepherding that bill through the Senate. The 2018 farm bill got 87 votes in the Senate.
Last week, more than 400 farm organizations wrote to congressional budget leaders asking for more money for the farm bill. Boozman said he and Stabenow are looking at what can be done to boost crop insurance and the commodity programs.
"It's not just about farmers," he said. "It's about rural America as well. In Arkansas, it's 25% of the economy. That's true in Ohio, it's true in Michigan. It's probably 40% in North Dakota. And the list goes on and on. And, it's a major economic driver in most of our states."
Boozman pointed out the 2018 farm bill was priced at $867 billion over 10 years. Now, spending is projected at just under $1.5 trillion during the next decade. Almost all of that boost in funding is tied to nutrition and conservation programs.
"The farm safety nets really have not received any of that money at all," he said. He added, "So we want to make sure the safety net -- traditional farming and specialty crops -- are well represented."
Also check out:
White House proclamation: https://www.whitehouse.gov/…
"Small, Young and Urban Farmers Don't Know Where to Turn at USDA," https://www.dtnpf.com/…
"Help Us Celebrate Ag Day," https://www.dtnpf.com/…
"Lawmakers Hear Texas-Size Challenges for Next Farm Bill," https://www.dtnpf.com/…
Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com
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