U.S. Agriculture Bill Hearing, February 23, 2017

Notes from the 2018 Agriculture Bill Hearing in Manhattan, KS Feb 23, 2017

Observer:  Karen Hummel

The meeting was chaired by Senators Pat Roberts (R Kansas) and Debbie Stabenow (D Michigan).

First remarks were given by KSU President Myers, Congressman Roger Marshall (R Kansas) and Jackie McClaskey (Kansas Secretary of Agriculture). Myers and Marshall remarks were mainly welcoming.  Marshall stressed focus on trade and nutrition.  McClaskey urged focus on a reliable safety net, reasonable regulations and conservation rules.

Roberts set the context – that prices for agriculture products were high during the crafting of the 2014 farm bill.  Prices have fallen and are low now. Stabenow stated that the number of persons receiving SNAP (supplemental nutrition funds) dropped by nearly 3 and a half million since the 2014 farm bill was enacted, due to people finding jobs.  (My notes indicate she said it was a savings of $8 billion.  According to Wikipedia, it resulted in a 9 billion dollar reduction in spending on the program. I’m not sure if there was a re-definition of eligibility requirements during that timespan.) Stabenow’s view is that a safety net is needed for farmers as well as low income households.

The panel members were introduced in two groups. Each panelist was instructed to speak for no longer than three minutes.  This was followed by a few questions from Roberts and Stabenow.

The first panel consisted of producers.

Panelists were:

David Clawson, Kansas Livestock Association. He asked for value-based marketing programs.  He highlighted the risks of provisions that would restrict ranchers’ freedom of choice in how cattle are marketed, specifically the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) interim final rule on competitive injury. The rule has been opposed by the majority of cattle producers since it was first introduced in 2010.

Linda Foster, Dairy Producers.  The Dairy Market Protection Program is a flexible program that allows a dairy operator to self-select coverage options to protect the farm against declines in national average production margins. Different coverage options reflect a producer’s ability to protect different margin levels (from $4 to $8 per hundredweight) and different coverage percentages (from 25% to 90%). Linda said that the Margin Protection Program no longer works, because the levels are set such that it never kicks in, so farmers are not signing up for it.  She says the levels need to be revised and that we should reinstate 2% milk in school lunches.

Amy Franz, Kansas Farm Bureau. Amy said the EQIP program is working to help farmers in much-needed conservation efforts.  EQIP stands for Environmental Quality Incentives Program.  Financial assistance payments through EQIP are made to eligible producers, to implement approved conservation practices on eligible land or to help producers develop Conservation Activity Plans (CAP) to address specific land use issues. Payments are made on completed practices or activities identified in an EQIP contract that meet NRCS standards. Payment rates are set each fiscal year and are attached to the EQIP contract when it is approved.  Payment rates for each conservation practice can be found at each NRCS State Programs website. Amy stated that restrictions on spraying may force growers to sell their rigs and rely on commercial sprayers.

Lucas Highman, Soybean Association. Farm prices are down.  Help is needed to protect commodity prices.

Tom Lahey, Kansas Cotton Association. 75% of Kansas cotton is exported.  Expand foreign markets.

Kent Moore, Corn growers.  Stressed importance of crop insurance.  Called for strengthening the Market Access Program (MAP) grants, offered through the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service.

(Observer’s note:  He did not mention the role of water and the decline of the Ogallala aquifer due to corn production.)

Cameron Peirce, Sunflower Commission. Crop insurance important. Sunflowers are a no-till crop.

Chuck Springer, Pork Producers. Establish a Foot & Mouth Disease vaccine bank.

Kent Winter, Sorghum Producers. The ability to get bank loans depends on having crop insurance and commodity price guarantees.  The sugar cane aphid has become an infestation in Kansas.

Kenneth Wood, Wheat Growers. Prices are down, costs are rising.  50% of Kansas wheat is exported.  Need to protect and expand export markets.  Asked for clarification of WOTUS (Waters of the US, an EPA guideline concerning enforcement of the Clean Water Act for upstream tributaries.  There has been ambiguity and animosity associated with this bill.  Producers seemed to think it might be applied to dry creek beds and standing water in fields. No clarification was provided at this meeting.)

The panel agreed that EQIP(Environmental Quality Incentives Program) and CSP (Conservation Stewardship Program) are working, as well as CRP (Conservation Reserve Program) are working.

The second panel consisted of representatives of organizations that support producers.  They were:

Shane Haines, First National Bank. Need to raise lending limits.  Farmers do not receive payments in the same year as the market year.  This results in difficult bookkeeping.

Catherine Moyer, Pioneer Communications (rural broadband).  Continue to support RUS(Rural Utilities Service) and Broadband loan programs.

Kathy O’Brien, Kansas Electric Cooperatives. The RUS loan program is effective.  It needs to be extended into the 2018 bill.  This is important to develop rural Kansas.

Gina Ott, Farm Credit Corporation. The bottom 15 – 20% of producers are suffering.  Crop insurance is critical.

Derek Piney, Kansas Grain & Feed Association. Ethanol producers want to keep the renewable fuel standard.

Greg Ruley, Agronomics Coop Council. Look at the range of tillage options available now, and consider them in drafting the bill: no till, limited till, new conservation methods.  Look at credit options.

Clay Scott, Water Council. The water infrastructure in the state is aging and prone to failure.  This needs to be addressed. Policy changes are needed with regard to water.  Sen. Roberts stated he had recently toured water facilities in Israel.

Cherise Tieben, Dodge City manager. In 2008, Dodge City faced a housing crisis, a lack of affordable housing for laborers. The USDA guaranteed loan program for rural development provided funds to solve the problem.

That’s all.

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