Everyone benefits by passing a farm bill
By Dennis Hill
North Dakota is fortunate to have Sen. John Hoeven and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp on the Senate Agriculture Committee.
There’s unfinished work to do.
Congress failed last year to pass a new farm bill. Instead, at the last hour, it approved a one-year extension of the 2008 Farm Bill. While better than nothing, the Senate approved a bill that provided permanent disaster assistance for livestock, eliminated direct payments to farmers, improved insurance protection, created a revenue-based safety net, cut $23 billion out of future federal spending and yet funded conservation and rural development programs.
For the future, our farmers and ranchers deserve more certainty in what a farm bill can provide in terms of crop insurance in case of disasters. Consumers deserve more certainty in what a farm bill can provide in terms of food safety and security. And low-income consumers deserve more certainty in what a new farm bill can provide for the nation’s vitally important food stamp program, now called the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP.
For as important as these concerns are, a farm bill should have sailed through last year. Former Sen. Kent Conrad and Sen. Hoeven both supported a new, five-year bipartisan farm bill that passed the Senate with 67 votes. The House Agriculture Committee also passed a bipartisan bill. And yet, House Speaker John Boehner made the decision not to bring the bill to the House floor for a vote because it lacked support within his caucus.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack weighed in on the farm bill discussion last year at a national farm forum. He challenged rural America to be more relevant, saying rural America should do more to be inclusive in its attitudes over such issues as food safety and security, immigration and nutrition programs. If the entire focus is on production agriculture, he said urban votes in Congress will be increasingly hard to come by in order to pass a farm bill.
Rural electric cooperatives understand the need to reach out to those who do not share the legacy of rural America. Our electric cooperative heritage is serving America’s farmers and ranchers. But increasingly, urban America has grown into rural America, and we provide electric service to an entire new generation of members who do not farm or ranch for a living.
If invited, we believe these consumers, too, will support a new farm bill that helps guarantee the security of a network of family farmers across the land; assures consumers that America’s food supply is safe and secure; and lends a helping hand to those less fortunate who rely on federal nutrition programs.
Having conversations that build understanding is what it will take to pass the next extension of a farm bill for America’s farmers, ranchers and consumers. It’s time to finish this work.
Dennis Hill, editor-in-chief of North Dakota Living, is executive vice president and general manager of the North Dakota Association of Rural Electric Cooperatives, Mandan. Comments can be mailed to Dennis Hill, NDAREC, P.O. Box 727, Mandan, ND 58554-0727 or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.