Farmer leaders at this week’s annual Commodity Classic in San Antonio, Texas, urged agricultural leaders to have a unified message as they lobby lawmakers for passage of a new farm bill.
“As we go forward I want to make sure we speak clearly, forcefully and in a uniform manner, to make sure this legislation gets passed,” said Illinois farmer Ron Moore, American Soybean Association president. “Previous farm bills took too much time because we weren’t speaking in a uniform manner.”
Moore said the next farm bill will encompass everything from trade promotion and nutrition to renewable energy and conservation, as well as risk management tools.
“Given how universal this bill is, it's imperative that over the coming weeks and months, we speak clearly, forcefully and in a unified manner about the priorities that we need included in the legislation to be successful.”
Moore said ASA’s Washington, D.C. staff was already engaging in farm bill discussions with other commodity groups as well as food, nutrition and conservation groups.
“We don’t want a situation where the farm bill is delayed, like last time,” says Moore, referring to the 2012 bill that was not signed into law until 2014.
“Our position is, let’s get it started now, have it passed in 2017 and ready to implement in 2018. Let’s keep it out of the mid-term election cycle and make sure it doesn’t get kicked down the road like it did last time.”
House Ag Committee chairman Mike Conaway echoed those sentiments, telling an audience of 9,000 folks attending the general session that his number one priority was to pass a farm bill in a timely manner.
“I’m committed – driven, quite frankly – to get the farm bill done on time,” said Conaway.
ASA leaders also said they will pursue farm bill funding levels that meet the needs of all current programs, and in some cases they would look for increased funding.
“It’s important, given the state of the farm economy and the uncertainties of marketing our products overseas,” said Moore.
He said anticipated cost of the current farm bill is significantly less than the level estimated by the Congressional Budget Office when it was enacted in 2014. While commodity program costs are projected to be up by $16 billion over the next ten years due to lower prices, the cost of crop insurance is down about $10 billion for the same reason. And the cost of food stamps, or SNAP, is down by $84 billion over the same ten year period due to the improved economy.
As a result, “There is no reason for Congress to cut the cost of farm programs,” he added.
He went on to say a majority of soybean farmers use the ARC-County government program “and we want to keep that program as an option in the next farm bill,” but with fewer discrepancies between counties. ASA also supports revisions in the cotton and dairy programs, “provided that funding for those fixes doesn't come from other commodities, and that they don't raise problems with the World Trade Organization,” said Moore.
The organization pledged support for the federal crop insurance program.
“We will vigorously defend the federal crop insurance program, including opposing any proposals to reduce premium subsidies or impose means testing caps,” Moore said.
Robust trade needed
John Heisdorffer, an ASA board member who farms in southeast Iowa, said trade continues to be a critical issue for soybean farmers, especially since the Trump administration has pulled the U.S. out of the Trans Pacific Partnership and threatened to renegotiate the highly-successful NAFTA.
“While we are clearly concerned about the impact of actions to our export markets, we firmly believe we can engage in a constructive dialogue with the administration,” he said. “We can’t stress enough the value of trade with the Asian or Latin American regions.”
If enacted, TPP would have added a potential 12 cents per bushel to the value of soybeans from increased exports in whole beans and high protein soybean meal.
“There is no more important market than China, since roughly 30% of our soybeans go there,” said Heisdorffer. “If that demand goes to South America, our prices will ‘go south’ just as quickly. We cannot afford to get China trade policy wrong; there is just too much at stake for soybean farmers.”
The Iowa farmer noted Mexico and Canada are among the top soybean trading partners for U.S. farmers.
“While we think there are some places we can improve NAFTA, we have to make sure we don’t take a step backwards in the renegotiating process,” he said.
The global market doesn’t stand still and “we can’t afford to wait either,” Heisdorffer concluded. “We'll work alongside President Trump to ensure that he understands the value that trade brings for farmers and the rural and national economy, and we'll work to see that good trade agreements are negotiated and protected that move the needle for soybean farmers nationwide.”