WASHINGTON, D.C. – In an effort to add farmers’ voices to the 2023 Farm Bill debate, several Indiana soybean growers traveled to Washington, D.C., recently to talk with federal lawmakers, their staffs and industry leaders to influence this vital ag spending policy.
Doing the talking and the walking around Capitol Hill were three Indiana board members on the American Soybean Association (ASA): Phil Ramsey, of Shelbyville; Elaine Gillis, of Dunkirk; and Mike Koehne, of Greensburg. All three are also members of the Indiana Soybean Alliance’s Membership & Policy Committee (M&P). They are part of ASA’s grassroots effort to create this year’s farm bill.
The ASA directors spoke directly to Sen. Mike Braun (R-Ind.), Sen. Todd Young (R-Ind.), Rep. Rudy Yakym (R-District 2), Rep. Jim Banks (R-District 3), Rep. Victoria Spartz (R-District 5) and Rep. Greg Pence (R-District 6). The group also talked policy with Lauryn Adams, staff member of Rep. Jim Baird (R-District 4), David Bean, staff member of Rep. Larry Bucshon (R-District 8), and Brianna Tibbetts, staff member of Rep. Erin Houchin (R-District 9). They met separately with Adam Batallio and Will Haines of Braun’s staff as well.
Ramsey said ASA is promoting five key farm bill priorities:
- Maintaining the current crop insurance program
- Keeping farm safety net programs such as Price Loss Coverage (PLC) and Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) in place
- Expanding investments to expand global trade of U.S. commodities
- Enhancing voluntary and incentive-based conservation programs
- Promoting new market opportunities for soybeans through research, rural development and nutrition
“We have five main points that start with protecting the crop insurance program, as is, and keeping the subsidies that go toward those policies in place,” Ramsey said. “We talked a lot about the farm safety net for soybeans, PLC and ARC. We need to raise the target price and update our base acres. We had a lot of discussion trying to explain exactly what that is within the farm bill.”
Koehne added that U.S. farmers need a wider base of export destinations for U.S. crops.
“We need to invest more to promote U.S. commodities globally,” Koehne explained. “We need to keep pushing in that direction. China has been taking about one-third of our soybeans, and we have a rocky relationship with China. We need to keep developing new markets around the world.”
The ASA board members advised the federal legislators that conservation programs are important, but they should be incentive-based and voluntary for farmers to participate.
“We really stressed that conservation programs need to be voluntary; we don’t want these programs tied to insurance or a program to be qualified for insurance,” Ramsey said. “We want to keep it all voluntary and separate because we’re talking about the whole country. There are a lot of differences between southern states and northern states and practices that are in place. It’s tough to set a blanket policy on conservation programs because farm operations vary so much.”
Lastly, ASA would like to see the federal government invest in new market opportunities through research, rural development and nutrition. “Soybeans are an amazing crop and used in many food and industrial products,” Gillis said. “We want to continue to push forward for new uses for the soybeans we grow. It’s a crucial part of market development and moving the pile.”
Steve Howell, the senior director of industry affairs for M&P, accompanied the Hoosier farmers while in Washington, D.C. He said the lawmakers they spoke with were generally optimistic about the farm bill getting adopted this year.
“The read we’ve gotten from committee leadership, both Republicans and Democrats in both the Senate and House, is that they’re committed to getting the farm bill done on time,” he said. “The farm bill is one of those few bills that is more bipartisan than other bills. There are going to be some differences of opinion, and it could get contentious given some of the reforms that may be put forward for the nutrition title. How severe that contention will be is yet to be seen, but I think the farm groups are in agreement that we want it done on time. We do have good policy in the farm bill.”
The existing farm bill will expire at the end of September. Howell said House Speaker Kevin McCarthy has expressed that he wants a farm bill signed before the end of this calendar year, which is why there have been so many committee meetings. One likely delay will be a discussion on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) because it comprises 85 percent of the farm bill budget. The other 15 percent of the bill covers farm production programs.
“Well, everybody we talked to seems to be optimistic that the farm bill can be done, or at least their goal is that it will be done before the end of the year,” Ramsey said. “It might not be September, but they think it would be by the calendar year.”
Ramsey added that Indiana’s senators and representatives also asked the delegation for opinions about non-farm bill policies such as the Renewable Fuels Standard and the Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS).
“Soy-based, renewable diesel fuel is among the top priorities of the American Soybean Association. We talked about the EPA’s Renewable Fuels Standard and soy-based fuels,” he said. “WOTUS was one of the first things they wanted to talk about besides the farm bill. We had a really good response from all of our congressional staff. Indiana is very fortunate with the caliber of staffers that each one of our representatives and senators have.”
Ultimately, Howell said face-to-face meetings with state and federal officials is crucial to influencing new policies that will benefit farmers.
“That’s why farmers need to join the Indiana Soybean Alliance’s Membership & Policy Committee as dues-paying members,” he said. “That’s how this work gets done. That’s how their voice is heard in Washington and in Indianapolis. We’ve got to carry that member voice out here that we need good policy, so we can continue to do the work we love on our farms.”