Farm groups must build a broader base of support for farm programs by strengthening relationships with nutrition advocates, environmental groups and minority farmers, a trio of farm policy veterans told National Corn Growers Association.
“You have to build relationships with people who care about food stamps, who care about conservation,” said former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, DN.D. “You can’t expect to get a farm bill by just being who you are in production farming.
Heitkamp – who was part of a roundtable with former Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman and former Farm Services Agency administrator Richard Fordyce – also warned farmers against efforts to ease the debt of minority farmers.
“It’s time to step back and say, I may not agree with this politically, but these are constituency groups that can be extremely valuable in building a larger coalition,” he said. said Heitkamp.
A series of successful lawsuits brought by white farmers and in one case, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Sid Miller forced the USDA to terminate a debt forgiveness program authorized by the US Relief Plan in 2021.
As for concerns, such programs are unfair to producers who don’t benefit from them, Heitkamp said “there are tons of inequities…in government spending.”
Fordyce, who oversaw the implementation of the 2018 Farm Bill under the Trump administration, said concerns about climate change offer farmers the opportunity to build support for Farm Bill programs by showing how farming practices can reduce greenhouse gas emissions.
“We have the opportunity to tell some really good stories about the things we’re doing on our farms to promote climate-smart agriculture,” Fordyce said.
“Agriculture really can be the people on the white horse. … The things we’ve been doing for, in some cases, decades, literally fall under this description of climate-smart agriculture.
Glickman, a former Democratic congressman from Kansas who served as the nation’s top agriculture official during the Clinton administration, pointed to the political interdependence of nutrition and agriculture programs. Keeping them together has traditionally provided both urban and rural support for farm bills.
“You don’t know which tail is wagging which dog in this situation, but they are part of the same animal,” Glickman said. Without agricultural programs in the same legislation, nutrition spending “would have far less political support,” he said.
The NCGA held its Summer Corn Convention this week in Washington, where farmers debated policy and met with lawmakers and staff.
The House Republican Study Committee, of which the majority of House GOP members are members, recently proposed an alternative budget that calls for separate nutrition programs for the farm bill and reducing spending on agriculture and conservation programs.
Heitkamp said the nutrition programs appeal to House members who otherwise aren’t interested in farm spending.
“Not all congressional districts have farms, but they do have people who need food security assistance,” she said.
Heitkamp, Glickman and Fordyce all pointed to the importance of the federal crop insurance program for producers.
“I think we’re going to see volatility over the next few years that exceeds what we’ve seen in the past,” Glickman said. “The crop insurance and risk management programs are going to be even more important than before.
Fordyce said it was important for the USDA to have the flexibility to modify insurance products to meet the needs of farmers. He cited as an example premium reductions for the use of cover crops and provisions that would allow organic soil products to substitute for synthetic fertilizers.
Heitkamp said farmer groups should be wary of attempts to impose environmental restrictions on crop insurance, such as conditioning coverage on conservation tillage practices.
“We have to start by doing no harm” to the program, she said. “What we have now is working. It ensures food security, not only for us, but for the rest of the world. And it’s absolutely an essential safety net in an era of high input prices. »
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