August is typically a down time in DC, but that has not been the case this year. Among other things, lots of work was being done on the Farm Bill.
Conference Committee members had informal meetings to begin discussions and set goals, Hill staff members were busy working on language, and lawmakers got some time to do the important work of getting back to their homes and visiting with farmer constituents.
Farmers and businesses that depend on agriculture were busy, too, knowing how important this Farm Bill conference report will be and making sure that lawmakers know what’s transpiring in the country-side.
The Southwest Council of Agribusiness, for example, sent conferees a detailed description of the challenges currently plaguing rural America and the need to strengthen Title 1 of the Farm Bill. They wrote, in part:
The reality is a very real crisis is unfolding in the America’s heartland that warrants our most careful attention. Most farm families will be losing money on every bushel or pound they produce. At best, this means years of savings and equity will continue to be lost by farmers just to pay the bills this year, and at worst it means farmers will be forced out of the family farming business….
Passage of even a significantly enhanced farm bill will not address all of the mounting challenges that farmers and ranchers are facing — challenges that only more open and fair trade markets, stronger prices, ample moisture, solid production, regulatory relief, and an adequate labor supply will help to mitigate. However, sound U.S. farm policy, including a stronger Title 1, conservation incentives, trade promotion authorities, and Federal Crop Insurance, is an essential part of helping to sustain rural America and the farm and ranch families that remain the backbone of this country.
Similar messages were carried during summer meetings hosted by other commodity organizations. The American Sugar Alliance, for example, convened in Michigan, a big sugar-producing state, where they met with numerous members of the congressional delegation.
There, lawmakers learned of sour prices and a global market that is awash with a record amount of subsidy-fueled surpluses.
“I can’t think of a commodity that is more distorted,” Ambassador Gregg Doud, the U.S. Trade Representative’s chief agriculture negotiator, told the group of the heavily subsidized world sugar market. “If you think there’s a problem in steel, take a look at the sugar market.”
Rolling back foreign government intervention and creating a free flow of goods where the most efficient producers succeed is a priority for U.S. sugar producers. And that’s exactly what Doud said the Trump Administration is working to accomplish for all of agriculture.
In the meantime, maintaining a strong safety net in the Farm Bill is essential to keeping U.S. farms afloat, numerous sugar officials explained.
“Without this policy in place, we’d be outsourcing production of a key food ingredient and rewarding other countries’ bad acts,” said Dan Colacicco, a former U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) official who now consults for the U.S. sugar industry.
Cotton, corn and other row crop farmers feel the same, and have kept their focus on the Farm Bill even as the Administration was rolling out its trade relief package.
The SWCA letter lauded the Administration’s decision to stand by farmers, sending a strong signal to the international trade community, but noted that the Farm Bill is “critical because stability and predictability can only truly emanate from long-term policy.”
As many have said before, the Farm Bill is really designed to provide a small anchor of stability in the otherwise uncertain world of agriculture and international trade. And that’s exactly why a timely completion of the strongest possible Farm Bill is a must.