By Joel Penhorwood
There was no shortage of policy to discuss during this year’s Ohio Farm Bureau County President’s Trip to Washington D.C. It took a group of Ohio farmers and ag professionals to the nation’s capital in early March to talk not only the latest issues in agriculture, but also give real-world perspective to lawmakers about policies important on the farm.
The farm bill is set for its five-year update in 2023 and dominated discussion over the three-day trip with a projected price tag of $1.5 trillion. Several other issues were also top of mind, including updates to Waters of the U.S. (WOTUS), ag input availability, tax policies, energy sources, market access, and much more.
Brandon Kern is the senior director of state and national policy for the Ohio Farm Bureau and helped to facilitate discussions around key ag topics.
“It’s really important for Congress to come together and get a farm bill done. For example, this year’s the Federal Crop Insurance Program is included and authorized in the farm bill,” he said. “It’s probably the most important policy piece there in the farm bill for Ohio’s farmers, just to provide that risk management, that safety net for agriculture, which is so important.”
Questions surrounding the future of crop insurance permeated conversation with lobbyists and lawmakers.
Jacob Kline is president of the Ashland County Farm Bureau. He and his wife have a small grain operation. They also help on a large dairy farm and with his family’s beef operation.
He said the week was an enlightening one, bringing updates on many policies in progress.
“A concern of mine I have is how people are going to reach across the aisle and compromise, so I’ve been very encouraged this week, hearing our representatives talk and share some of the common ideas that we all have as farmers,” Kline said. “But when it comes time to make the farm bill, a concern of mine is making those compromises that need to happen to get it done in a timely manner.”
Kline said he also has concerns with environmental policy that has potential mandated impact on his farm.
“I’m a strong believer in trying to promote a clean environment, which I think all farmers eventually do want that, but when a farmer has somebody tell them how to do something, that doesn’t sit near as well as an incentive program like we’re seeing Ohio take and what Governor DeWine’s doing. I wanted to push that issue here,” he said. “Let us do things on our own, we’re going to try make the right decisions as farmers.”
An agricultural forum allowed several representatives to stop by and hear directly from Farm Bureau members. It included many Ohio congressmen, along with some special guests outside of the state. One of those was G.T. Thompson of Pennsylvania, Republican chair of the House Ag Committee and one of those leading the charge on this year’s farm bill.
“We’re hearing about is the importance of protecting crop insurance, the effectiveness of the dairy margin coverage, the issue with weather-related emergency support and whether we could be more providing more certainty with that by incorporating it into the farm bill,” he said. “The big thing we’re hearing that’s a part of the of the landscape of what farmers in 2023 are facing — that’s all the headwinds I talked about with inflation and the fact that there’s very little to no margin and that’s the reality of the farm bill that we write in 2023.
“I’m afraid a lot of those operational costs aren’t going to come down for months, if not years. One of the things I will say that I’m highlighting with this farm bill is the fact that my definition of American agriculture is science, technology and innovation, so we’re leaning into that with everything that we do. This farm bill is for the farm of 2023 through 2028 — five years — but it’s also for the farmer of the future.”
House Majority Leader Steve Scalise of Louisiana also stopped by the forum.
“Farm Bureaus from across the country have been engaged for months now to make sure that they can give input because you want to make sure the laws are addressing the problems that farmers are facing. We’ve seen how costs are increasing, making it harder for family farms to operate,” Scalise said. “Clearly, bad energy policy in Washington is hurting farmers because the cost of diesel is dramatically higher, fertilizer is dramatically higher. We want to open up more ability for us to produce our own energy here in America to lower costs to make sure we don’t have to be relying on foreign countries for our energy, and that will help farmers as well.”
Senators Sherrod Brown and JD Vance also spoke to the group. Senator Brown is on the Senate Ag Committee and says he’s farm bill focused.
“We don’t always get it done in the calendar year, but I think we will this time because the Chair, it’s her last two years in the Senate and she has a real commitment to it,” Sen. Brown said. “What stands in the way is just regional differences in agriculture. I mean, there’s some people on the committee that care most about cotton or care about peanuts or care about southern crops as opposed to what we care about in the Midwest and Northeast. I think the biggest stumble is that, but we’re used to doing it — we are used to building bipartisan coalitions. We understand the importance of getting this done every five years. It’s been an American tradition, I think since the New Deal, and we have a responsibility to continue that. I feel we will. Boozman, the Republican ranking member, and Stabenow, the Democratic chairman, have a very good relationship. I have a good relationship with both of them too, and I feel good about getting it done this year.”
Sen. Vance talked on a wide range of topics as well, including East Palestine following the introduction of the Railway Safety Act in conjunction with Sen. Brown.
“I do think that we’re at least helping and if we haven’t gotten the cleanup done already, we’re at least making it more likely to get done sooner,” said Sen. Vance on cleanup in East Palestine cleanup. “Those things obviously matter. The worry that I’m going to have long-term for East Palestine — it’s not just the people in the city, but it’s the farmers people affected by it. I talked to a number of farmers from the area who said look, ‘I grow chickens, I grow hay. Nobody wants to buy this stuff grown on my farm, even if all of the tests say that everything is fine.’ They have a brand problem that they’re going to have for the next few years. We’re going to have to solve that problem. We can’t just leave this community behind, which is what I fear a lot of people in D.C. are going to want to do.”
No matter the issue, they each have a long road ahead in Washington. Future farm bill conversations will no doubt see more discussion on the topic of nutrition program funding versus farm-focused matters, the latter of which is projected to take over 80% of total farm bill spending.