May 14, 2010
Thursday’s hearing in the House Agriculture Committee brought in two panels of farm and food policy experts to continue the conversation kicked off on late April in preparation for the 2012 Farm Bill.
As in the first hearing in late April, the witnesses’ testimony and Representatives’ questions covered a wide range of topics, but consistently came back to two underlying themes. First, the 2012 Farm Bill will need to shift “business as usual” especially with regards to farm safety net programs like crop insurance; and second, Congress will need to make these changes within a tough budget context. Committee Chairman Collin Peterson (D-MN) has been calling the 2012 Farm Bill a “baseline” bill, but in the hearing, it was apparent that even a baseline level of funding is not guaranteed.
These themes played out in a back-and-forth on approaches to rural development. Professor Neil Hamilton of Drake University testified on the importance of continuing to support federal programs that promote the development of local and regional food systems alongside existing national and global commodity agriculture. This analysis was in line with prior comments from Chairman Peterson and Secretary Vilsack, but with overall funding for the Farm Bill likely to be limited, some in Congress feel threatened at what they perceive as an increasing emphasis on new and alternative markets.
In response to Professor Hamilton’s testimony, Rep. Jerry Moran (R-KS) expressed concern over what he saw as a “growing emphasis” on “lifestyle” agriculture over “production” agriculture and said that “a prospering mainstreet” would not come as a result of this “lifestyle” farming.
Hamilton countered by citing the potential for local and regional production to keep more dollars in rural communities and keep farmers on the land. In his written testimony, Hamilton also emphasizes support for “Agriculture of the Middle” – farmers and ranchers who rely heavily on farming income, are too large to sell into direct markets, but too small to compete effectively on the commodity market but are finding new high value regional markets.
Fellow Iowan Rep. Leonard Boswell (D-IA) reiterated that there was room in the tent for everyone: ‘There is not a threat to production agriculture,’ he said. ‘There’s room for both.’”
Four more field hearings remain:
Friday, May 14th – 1:30 p.m. EDT
National Archives Southeast Region
Saturday, May 15th – 1:00 p.m. CDT
Pike County Cattlemen’s Association
Monday, May 17th – 9:00 a.m. CDT
Texas Tech Museum
Texas Tech University
Tuesday, May 18th – 8:00 a.m. CDT
2nd Floor Theater
Edith Mortenson Center
Sioux Falls, SD