House and Senate Kick Off Agriculture Work with Hearings on 2018 Farm Bill and Appropriations

In recent weeks, the debate around the next Farm Bill – which will be up for reauthorization next year – has begun on Capitol Hill and in the field. The Senate Agriculture Committee held a Farm Bill hearing in Kansas (home to Chairman Pat Roberts), and the House Agriculture Committee has held subcommittee hearings on the next Farm Bill on conservation, international markets, rural development and energy, and specialty crops. Farm Bill hearings are noticed in the House Agriculture Committee for next week on agricultural research and forestry.

Also, the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee of the House Appropriations Committee held its first hearing to take a closer look at farm credit and lending programs.

Senate Ag Committee Hearing in the Heartland

Last month, the Senate Agriculture Committee traveled to Manhattan, Kansas, to kick off its 2018 Farm Bill hearings.  The hearing focused on general perspectives on the Farm Bill from Kansas.  The Committee will no doubt hold additional hearings on various titles of the Farm Bill in D.C. as the year continues.

In Kansas, the Committee heard from three panels of witnesses. The Welcome Panel consisted of General Richard Myers, President of Kansas State University; Congressman Roger Marshall; and Jackie McClaskey, Secretary of the Kansas State Department of Agriculture. Panel I included Kansas family farmers David Clawson, Lynda Foster, Amy France, Lucas Heinen, Tom Lahey, Kent Moore, Cameron Peirce, Michael Springer, Kenneth Wood, and Kent Winter.  Panel II included Shan Hanes, representing First National Bank of Elkhart; Catherine Moyer, of Pioneer Communications; Kathleen O’Brien, of Nemaha-Marshall Electric Cooperative; Gena Ott, representing Frontier Farm Credit; Derek Peine, of Renew Kansas; Greg Ruehle, representing Servi-Tech; Clay Scott, of Kansas Water Congress; and Cherise Tieben, City Manager of Dodge City, Kansas.

House Ag Committee Hearing on Conservation

At the House Subcommittee’s conservation hearing, Subcommittee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) noted that USDA conservation programs are critical. “I’m proud of the work of the farmers, ranchers and forest owners who implement these important conservation practices,” Lucas said. “I think the results speak for themselves—voluntary conservation works.” Conservation Subcommittee Ranking Member Marcia Fudge (D-OH) noted that the 2014 Farm Bill cut conservation program spending by $6 billion; and further cuts in the upcoming reauthorization would hamstring conservation efforts.

The Subcommittee heard from five witnesses: Chuck Coffey, a rancher from Oklahoma, representing the National Cattlemen’s Beef Association; Timothy Gertson, a rice farmer from Texas, representing the USA Rice Federation; Jeremy Peters, the CEO of the National Association of Conservation Districts; Dave Nomsen, Vice President of Government Affairs for Pheasants Forever; and John Piotti, President of American Farmland Trust.

Both Coffey and Gertson spent much of their time talking about the importance of working lands conservation programs, including the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).

House Ag Committee Hearing on International Markets

Last month, the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Livestock and Foreign Agriculture held a hearing on international markets. At that hearing, the Subcommittee heard from six witnesses: Gary Williams, professor of Agricultural Economics at Texas A&M University; Joseph Steinkamp, on behalf of the Coalition to Promote U.S. Agriculture Exports and the Agribusiness Coalition for Foreign Market Development; Tim Hamilton, of Food Export Midwest and Food Export Northeast; Philip Seng, of the U.S. Meat Export Federation; Dean Alanko, on behalf of the Hardwood Federation; and Paul Wenger, almond grower and President, California Farm Bureau.

The hearing was designed to give organizations who receive funding from trade promotion and market development programs a platform to discuss the continued need for the programs and the innovative ways in which they use them to establish and enhance markets for U.S. agricultural products overseas.

House Ag Committee Hearing on Rural Development and Energy Programs

At the House Subcommittee’s hearing on rural development and energy programs, Subcommittee Chairman Austin Scott spoke about the rural development and energy programs that “support infrastructure construction, encourage capital formation, and help to promote economic development across rural America.” He noted that so much of what rural America will be able to accomplish will be tied to how well these programs work. He spoke about reversing the cycle of young people in rural America leaving their communities for what they perceive to be greater opportunities elsewhere.

The Subcommittee heard from Bob Fox, on behalf of National Association of Counties; Dennis Chastain, on behalf of National Rurual Electric Cooperative Association; Steve Fletcher, on behalf of National Rural Water Association; Craig Cook, on behalf of The Rural Broadband Association; John Duff, representing National Sorghum Producers; and Jim Greenwood, representing Biotechnology Innovation Organization.

House Ag Committee Hearing on Specialty Crops

Last week, the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture and Research held a hearing on specialty crops issues in the Farm Bill.  The lineup of witnesses included five farmers or packers of fruits and vegetables (including two organic representatives). They spoke of issues including the need for a legal agriculture guest worker program (immigration reform), funding for specialty crop research and marketing (including research on citrus greening), food safety, organic research, and organic certification cost share.

One witness, Sean Gilbert of Gilbert Orchards and Sundquist Fruit, asked the Subcommittee to work with stakeholders that “currently operate in, or have an interest in, the organic marketplace, to modernize the makeup of the National Organic Standards Board (NOSB) to better represent the current state of the organic industry.” This is something we will keep an eye on, as it is imperative that any efforts to reform the NOSB be driven by certified organic operations, rather than any other interests who may the organic sector’s best interests at heart.

Appropriations Hearing on Farm Credit

The House Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittee  held a hearing to examine the Farm Credit Administration (FCA), which oversees a national network of regional Farm Credit institutions that provide roughly 41 percent of our nation’s agricultural credit. The Subcommittee heard from Dallas Tonsanger, Chairman and CEO of the FCA, and Jeffery Hall, an FCA board member. Much of the conversation centered on the current economic downturn and the growing need for credit from farmers across the country. In this context, the Subcommittee also addressed rural development, consolidation within the farm credit system, and FCA budget caps.

Hearing Season to Continue

Both the Agriculture Committees and the Agriculture Appropriations Subcommittees in the House and Senate will be holding numerous hearings through the spring as the 2018 Farm Bill debate and 2018 appropriations debate heat up. Stay tuned for more coverage in the coming weeks.

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