July 26, 2017
Yesterday, Senate Agriculture Committee hunkered down for an epic farm bill hearing, during which 17 witnesses gave testimony on three of the bill’s most significant titles – the Commodity Title (Title I), Credit Title (Title V), and Risk Management Title (Title XI).
Witnesses at the hearing included representatives from commodity groups, banks, general farm organizations, and the crop insurance industry, as well as the National Young Farmers Coalition (NYFC), a member of the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC). NYFC’s Executive Director and Co-Founder Lindsey Lusher Schute focused her testimony on the challenges faced by young and beginning farmers, and how Congress could work to overcome them in the 2018 Farm Bill (e.g., by improving access to affordable farmland, credit, and Farm Service Agency programs).
“Farming is a career that’s easy to love,” Shute told the Committee, “but to recruit the next generation of farmers, it must also provide a decent living.”
With 17 different witnesses, the testimony given was varied and nuanced. However, there were several areas of consensus that will be particularly important to sustainable agriculture in the next farm bill.
Points of Consensus
In addition to agreeing that the farm safety net is critical and that funding for farm bill programs should be protected, several areas of consensus emerged during the roughly four-hour long hearing:
Actively Engaged in Farming
Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA) spoke at length about the continued need to clamp down on commodity subsidy loopholes that have been left open for decades. Payment limitation loopholes in commodity programs have effectively led to subsidy payments being made to non-farmers, a fact that has infuriated the Iowa Senator.
“Perhaps the most important thing I can do is explain why this issue is so important,” Grassley said. “Giving non-farmers subsidies is completely indefensible, especially when we have a $20 trillion debt. If bigger farmers are as efficient as they claim, they should not need unlimited subsidies to make their business model work.”
During the 2014 Farm Bill debates, a provision was approved in both the House and Senate that would have addressed the Senator’s concerns by preventing anyone not actively engaged in farming form receiving subsidy payments. However, the rule was secretly dropped in final negotiations and instead swapped for a loosely written rule that exempts all family farms (no matter how large) from the limit and allows partnerships and joint ventures a potential limit of over $1 million per year.
Unlimited subsidies weaken the taxpayer’s faith in farmer support programs, make it increasingly difficult for beginning farmers access to land by giving the largest farms excess funds with which to buy up property, and distort agricultural markets by disproportionately supporting the wealthiest commodity farms.
The Home Stretch?
The Senate Agriculture Committee has now held hearings on eight of the twelve titles usually contained in the farm bill. During yesterday’s hearing, Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-KS) asked Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY) about providing floor time for the farm bill later this year. “The sooner the better,” McConnell replied. While we appreciate that the Senate Agriculture Committee, like its counterpart in the House, is moving quickly to debate policies and get its ducks in a row, the 2017 target may be somewhat aspirational – very rarely has a farm bill been completed before the expiration of the previous farm bill (the current bill expires September 30, 2018).
NSAC will continue to be actively engaged in future farm bill hearings and is currently preparing our 2018 Farm Bill Platform. Stay tuned to our website for ongoing updates and analysis.