Farm Bill: Missouri Listening Session

Thompson Expects Extension for Farm Bill, Defends Nutrition Title

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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Beth Schnitker, a board member with FCS Financial, talks to members of the House Agriculture Committee during a farm bill listening session Monday at the Missouri State Fair. Lawmakers included Reps. Monica De La Cruz, R-Texas, Jonathan Jackson, D- Ill., Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-Mo., Chairman "GT" Thompson, R-Pa., and Mark Alford, R-Mo. (DTN photo by Chris Clayton)

SEDALIA, Mo. (DTN) -- The nutrition title will remain part of the overall farm bill, but the legislation will require some type of extension before a new farm bill is passed, the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee said Monday.

Touring more states this summer than a 1980s rock band on a reunion tour, Rep. Glenn "GT" Thompson, R-Pa., held a farm-bill listening session at the Missouri State Fair. Thompson has been across the country on his summer break and will be heading to Wisconsin and Puerto Rico before the end of August.

Countering some of the talk in Washington, D.C., about the farm bill wishes of the conservative Freedom Caucus, Thompson has stressed the need for a bi-partisan farm bill. Asked about talk from fellow Republicans about splitting the nutrition programs such as Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) from the farm bill, Thompson defended the nutrition programs, which are called a "title" section in the legislation.

"First of all, it's not going to happen in terms of splitting the nutrition title from the other 11 titles" in the bill, Thompson said. "That's my opinion. That's a line I want to hold. I take great pride in the fact that farmers feed [the nation] and nutrition matters. So, the most appropriate place for the nutrition title is in the farm bill."

Thompson added that SNAP's role in food security supports farmers selling commodities. SNAP also provides workforce development training. The budget act passed in June on the debt ceiling "codifies that the nutrition title as a whole is as much about financial security as it is food security." Thompson pointed to the support for low-income families with children, seniors and people who are disabled. "There are a lot of reasons why the division makes no sense whatsoever."


On the time frame, Thompson noted, "the clock is ticking." The current farm bill is set to expire Sept. 30. So far, neither chamber has passed a bill, and neither the House nor Senate Agriculture Committee has advanced a bill. Thompson said his committee "could have language by the end of the month." He added, "That said, everything is dependent on when do we get a week designated on the House floor for running the bill?"

The House will come back in September with no funding bills having been passed into law. Thompson said once a week is blocked off to debate the bill on the floor, he will schedule a markup seven to 10 days earlier. His initial proposed bill would likely come out "a week or two" before that committee markup.

"There's a lot of competition for weeks on the (House) floor for the weeks in September because of all of the appropriations bills and some other ones that expire just like the farm bill," Thompson said.

Lawmakers left at the end of July without voting on the House appropriations bill for USDA and FDA because leaders couldn't secure a majority of votes for the bill. That will leave Congress with a few weeks to negotiate an extension to keep the government operating after Sept. 30. Any such "Continuing Resolution" would also likely have a farm-bill extension tacked on for good measure.

"We're probably going to need an extension. I hope it's a very short extension," Thompson said, adding his committee will have to coordinate with the Senate.


Thompson also put in another bipartisan plug talking about his friendship with Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and Ranking Member John Boozman, R-Ark.

"Sen. Stabenow and Sen. Boozman do a great job leading the Senate Agriculture Committee," Thompson said. "They are good friends of mine. Our staffs are working well together."

Monday's listening session also included freshman Democratic Rep. Jonathan Jackson from inner-city Chicago, as well as Rep. Monica De La Cruz, R-Texas, and Missouri Reps. Blaine Luetkemeyer and Mark Alford, both Republicans. Jackson, De La Cruz and Alford are all freshmen on the House Agriculture Committee, and Luetkemeyer is a former member.

Asked about how Democrats view the farm bill process right now, Jackson thanked Thompson and Alford for inviting him to Missouri. Jackson also said House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries, R-N.Y., asked Jackson to join the Agriculture Committee. "He's very much committed to bi-partisan efforts," Jackson said, adding Democrats want to support farmers with programs such as crop insurance, but bipartisanship also requires protecting and possibly enhancing the nutrition programs.

"There is crop insurance that is there for farmers who have land that is not sustainable without it," Jackson said. "And then there is food insurance that is affecting people in the inner cities when we're sitting on the most abundant land resources in this great country. We do have enough support to feed every one of our citizens. So we are trying to close that gap. I think it's going to be a large part of bipartisanship, but we have to stop fixing the blame on people and start fixing the problem."

Alford told the state fair crowd, "Our entire delegation is fighting for this farm bill."

Alford highlighted the need to protect risk management tools for farmers. On SNAP, Alford, said, "If we can't feed our nation, then they can't be productive citizens." Alford added there were still issues with SNAP that need to be examined. "We have to eliminate the waste and the fraud in the SNAP program," he said.


Speaking at the start of the listening session, Missouri Gov. Mike Parsons told the lawmakers to take care of the small farmers in the farm bill. He noted Missouri has a lot more smaller farmers than large ones. "How do we help the small farmers as much as we do the big farmers sometime?" Parsons asked.

Parsons and others who spoke also talked about how cattle producers have been impacted by drought the past couple of years. Parsons noted cattle producers will likely be short of forage this winter.

Garrett Hawkins, president of the Missouri Farm Bureau, talked about maintaining a strong safety net, but also continuing a robust Rural Development title. Talking about the drought, Hawkins said, "Farmers need more tools to help us respond."

He and others who testified also called on Congress to adjust conservation programs such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) to allow them to fund water-holding ponds for livestock. He also called for cutting to help rehabilitate farm ponds and expand some grazing management practices.

Mike VanMaanen, owner of the Eastern Missouri Commission Co., a sale barn in Bowling Green, Missouri, testified for the Livestock Marketing Association on legislation that would allow livestock market owners to invest in small or regional packers. Right now, they are banned because of Packers and Stockyard Act provisions.

"It's a bill that would allow local sale barn owners such as myself to invest in those facilities," VanMaanen said.

Beth Schnitker, a farmer and board member with FCS Financial, reiterated the importance of a strong crop-insurance program in helping producers get the operating funds they need.

"It just helps us as ag lenders have some security for our operating loans," Schnitker said.

Reagan O'Farrell, 16, from Appleton City, Missouri, told lawmakers about the need to accelerate rural broadband across the state. She told DTN that in the past few years it has been a struggle at times to do schoolwork.

"It's probably out of service two months out of the year," she said. "The co-ops are putting in fiber and they are just now hooking it up. It's a big deal where we live with cattle farmers who are trying to use RFID tags."

Alford noted rural broadband can cost $4,000 to hook up one family.

Parsons credited O'Farrell for coming to the fair to speak about it. He told the crowd that Missouri is making more investment in rural broadband, partly due to new federal funds.

"Missouri is going to make the largest investment we've ever seen trying to ensure everyone has broadband," Parsons said.

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Chris Clayton