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Weekly Column: Ground Work For The Farm Bill

Guest column submitted by U.S. Senator Mike Crapo

A quote from our nation’s first president, George Washington, about the central role of agricultural production is inscribed on the exterior of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s main building in Washington, D.C.:  “With reference either to individual or national welfare agriculture is of primary importance.”  This importance is deeply felt in Idaho communities, where farms and ranches put food on our tables and support jobs.  The need for timely reauthorization of the next Farm Bill is a message heard clearly in my travels around Idaho and meetings with food producers.  I thank Idahoans for input on this important legislation and encourage you to continue to share your views as Farm Bill reauthorization discussions take shape.

The Idaho State Department of Agriculture (ISDA) reports that approximately 25,000 farms and ranches produce more than 185 different agricultural commodities in Idaho.  These producers are responsible for Idaho leading or being ranked among top states in in the production of alfalfa hay, barley, beans, cheese, hops, lentils, mint, onions, peas, potatoes, sugarbeets, trout, wheat, and other commodities, and livestock outnumber people in Idaho.  Idahoans produce far more than can be consumed within the state and are feeding the world—selling nearly $2 billion of Idaho’s produce, grains, meats, dairy and seeds worldwide, according to the ISDA.    

Idaho agriculture is influenced by a variety of factors, including federal policies and programs.  Throughout my time in Congress, I have greatly valued opportunities to work with Idahoans to help shape past Farm Bills to try to ensure that federal farm policy best empowers Idaho production.  The current Farm Bill expires September 2018, and reauthorization discussions are underway in Congress.  It is important to also remember that the Farm Bill affects a wide swath of federal policy far beyond traditional agricultural commodity programs.  Federal nutrition, conservation, rural development, energy, world market access, forestry, specialty crop, organics, and many other programs are part of the Farm Bill.  For example, incentives, rather than mandates, provided through Farm Bill conservation programs are the best way to achieve environmental results on private land and contribute more to enhancing our environment than any other federal policy. 

Provisions in the last Farm Bill, the 2014 Farm Bill, reshaped the structure of farm commodity support, expanded crop insurance coverage, consolidated conservation programs, reauthorized and revised nutrition assistance, and more.  As for many past Farm Bills, the budget is a major consideration for the next Farm Bill debate.  Updated Congressional Budget Office estimates indicate that the 2014 Farm Bill is expected to cost less than projected when it was enacted.  This means the new budget baseline for the next Farm Bill will provide lawmakers with less spending authority to work with than the 2014 bill, which will present some challenges.  My priority for the next Farm Bill is to ensure that Idaho producers’ concerns and priorities are addressed during the reauthorization process. 

Important in this effort is the understanding that the agriculture economy has had its fair share of challenges the past few years, characterized by low commodity prices and decreased farm revenues.  Additionally, food demands are increasing with rising world populations.  We are asking farmers and ranchers to meet these demands, while pressures on land, water and other requirements are also increasing.  The next Farm Bill must continue to make wise use of taxpayer dollars, but also provide an appropriate safety net and risk management tools to allow our nation’s farmers and ranchers to weather difficult times.  I encourage those interested in these issues to contact me with your views as Congress considers this legislation that affects so much of America.  

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