By MEGGIE. I. FOSTER
WASHINGTON, D.C. — While many Americans grow increasingly frustrated with the lack of progress on Capitol Hill, a group of Indiana Farm Bureau (IFB) leaders visited the Hill last week with lofty hopes of keeping Congress on its toes and Washington in its place.
“Every March, there’s about 3,000 farmers from across the country who come to Washington, D.C. to talk with members of Congress about critical issues in agriculture,” said Megan Ritter, team leader of public policy for IFB. “Indiana participates in this every year, with about 50 leaders from across the state, as well as our State Young Farmer Committee participating this year. It’s a great opportunity for our members to share their interests and the things they’re dealing with back home with their Congressmen.”
Among the host of concerns within the group of Hoosier farm advocates included passage of a new farm bill, immigration reform, the Clean Water Act, tax issues and food safety and labeling.
“Think about your farm and how these issues may affect you,” said Pat Wolff, lobbyist with the American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF), going on to identify several of the policy initiatives supported by AFBF during the meeting with Indiana leaders on March 12.
On many Hoosier minds was certainly Congress’ failure to pass the 2012 farm bill last December, resulting in a temporary extension, leaving many in the agriculture industry uncertain and confused. “We’re done with the 2012 farm bill, it’s time to move on and start all over again,” said Bob Young, chief economist for AFBF. “There will be lots of provisions rolling on through. But it’s important to remember what Congress often giveth, it taketh away.”
Young alluded to Rep. Paul Ryan’s (R-Wis.) recent policy proposal (released March 12) to cut nearly $31 billion from farm programs in the next 10 years.
“But that’s not enough, they will be looking for an additional $10 billion in cuts from the farm title,” Young added. “When you work through the numbers, with $6-$7 per acre in support for soybean growers, $60 per acre for rice, $100 for cotton and $15-$18 for corn, it’s really a very small pot to pull from.”
According to Young, there is a strong desire in Washington to protect crop insurance, especially after the nation’s farmers suffered an unspeakable drought last year. “They will only very lightly change crop insurance if at all,” he assured.
Donnelly backs crop insurance
Kendall Culp, a livestock and grain farmer from Jasper County, Ind., and past IFB board member told Sen. Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), who serves on the Senate Agriculture Committee, that “we’d be willing to do away with direct payments, but crop insurance needs to remain a cornerstone of the farm bill, we absolutely need that market risk protection.”
In response, Donnelly pledged to keep crop insurance “a central piece of the new farm bill.”
“This role gives me a change to work on the farm bill,” he said. “And one thing I know that no one here knows better is that I want to be your voice in putting the reflection of the Indiana agriculture community’s needs in the new farm bill.”
According to Ritter, the Senate and House ag committees expect to begin drafting of the new farm bill within the next couple months.
Indiana farm leaders also had an opportunity to discuss the farm bill and other critical issues in agriculture such as the Clean Water Act and immigration reform with Sen. Dan Coats (R-Ind.)
“The bottom line is there is a new Congress in town, we’re starting over and I don’t know yet how it (farm bill) will shape up,”
cautioned Coats. “I’ve never been a fan of subsidies for southern crops, corn and soybeans are our majorly exported crops, that’s where our focus should be.”
In addition, Coats also anticipates changes on the horizon to the Clean Water Act and a steady reining in of the sometimes overzealous Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
Clean Water Act
According to David Salmonsen, senior director of congressional relations for AFBF, members of Farm Bureau have been working diligently to keep the word “navigable” from language referring to regulation of waterways within the Clean Water Act.
“Now that the administration has been granted four more years, we are certain they will release new draft guidance on the regulation of waterways,” said Salmonsen. “And we’re not fighting about the Mississippi River or Lake Michigan here when we talk about ‘navigable’ waters, we’re talking the streams on your farms and water in your ditches. If you saw a map of regulated waterways, it would probably surprise you, but this next layer they are suggesting completely blurs the lines and heads us into complete and utter conflict. If the public understood the implications of this, they would be on our side.”
Salmonsen added that the EPA is “trying to build political pressure to get their hooks into the rural landscape of America. They think they know how to farm better than you. But what they simply don’t understand is that agriculture’s carbon footprint is smaller than ever before and farmers are using less product, the right product and applying it to our soils based on sound science.”
While Sen. Coats remains optimistic on new regulations moving forward from the Clean Water Act, he’s concerned about the influence of the President and the Senate over policies within the EPA.
“The EPA is controlled by this administration and the Senate and they are pushing the EPA to do what can only be done by the U.S. Congress,” said a clearly frustrated Coats. “From that standpoint, we (GOP) don’t control the Senate or the White House, so we have very little say, unfortunately. They are totally out of control and making decisions and issuing policy based on ideology instead of sound science.”