Current Farm Bill Doesn't Work For Farmers
Column by Doug Sombke, President of S.D. Farmers Union
As South Dakota family farmers and ranchers we work each day to feed the families of millions of Americans. And yet, when I review our current Farm Bill, I am disappointed because it does not provide the protections we need to ensure that in disaster we are able to earn enough to feed our own families.
Although many throughout the agriculture industry agree, some are afraid to say anything because they don't want changes to the current Farm Bill to take away what minimal protections are in place.
I call on all of us to EXPECT MORE OF OUR ELECTED OFFICIALS. Agriculture is South Dakota's No. 1 industry and critical to our nation's national security. South Dakota Farmers Union, together with National Farmers Union calls upon our elected officials to create a Farm Bill that supports the population it is intended to serve.
First, I ask Representative Kristi Noem to VOTE NO on the House farm bill in its current form. Please work to change the Farm Bill to better serve South Dakota's family farmers and ranchers.
Together with Noem, I also call on South Dakota's Sens. Mike Rounds and John Thune to encourage changes to the farm bill so that it does the following:
Ensure fair and diverse markets for family farmers.
Over time, family farmers and ranchers have been increasingly disadvantaged in traditional commodity markets. However, access to new markets can open the door for producers to diversify their operations, improve their profitability and meet consumer demands.
Restore mandatory funding for programs that improve access to local, regional and specialty markets.
The House farm bill eliminates mandatory funding for key programs critical to promoting access to local, regional and specialty markets such as The Farmers' Market and Local Foods Promotion Program (FMLFPP) and Value-Added Producer Grants (VAPG).
At the same time, the National Organic Certification Cost-Share Program (NOCCSP) and the Agricultural Marketing Assistance (AMA) program make it easier for farmers to transition into organic agriculture.
Include a competition title to ensure fair treatment of family farmers and ranchers.
Increased consolidation within both agricultural inputs and outputs has led to increased costs for farmers, less choice and innovation in the marketplace and increased prices for consumers.
The consolidated marketplace has left family farmers to operate on razor thin margins, forcing many out of business.
Congress should establish a new Farm Bill title to promote competition in the marketplace, enhance antitrust enforcement, and establish protections from unfair and deceptive practices in the contract poultry and livestock sectors.
Congress must provide an adequate safety net for family farmers and consumers.
The safety net needs to be improved to keep family farmers in business during down market cycles. The long-lasting slump in commodity prices prevents farmers from receiving a good price from the market. As a result, family farmers and ranchers are forced to rely on price supports that do not reflect the current state of the farm economy.
Improve farm safety net to reflect the current state of the farm economy.
Net farm income is less than half of what it was when the current Farm Bill was written six years ago.
The current safety net doesn't provide enough support for family farmers and ranchers to provide for their families and cover expenses.
Farmers need higher PLC reference prices for commodities that have been underwater for years. Dairy farmers need both price supports and a mechanism that manages our nation's oversupply of milk. At the same time, these programs should be implemented responsibly by capping payments and directing them solely to family farmers.
Ensure credit availability for farmers and ranchers.
Farm Service Agency (FSA) provides critical loans for new and beginning farmers as well as farmers that have fallen on difficult times.
While H.R. 2 increases the guaranteed loan limit, it does nothing to increase loan authority for FSA's overall loan portfolio.
This will lead to larger loans going out to fewer farmers. Additionally, the bill provides no increase for the direct loan program, which more often provides necessary credit to beginning farmers.
Congress must promote the long-term sustainability of family farms and ranches.
Sustainability is critical for farm productivity and the health of rural communities now and for generations to come.
The House Farm Bill must be improved to provide family farmers and ranchers the tools they need to be the best possible stewards of our natural resources.
Provide incentive-based working lands program to promote improved stewardship.
By cutting working lands conservation funding by $5 billion and eliminating the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP), the House version of the Farm Bill falls woefully short in promoting active stewardship.
The Environmental Quality Incentives Program and CSP currently serve distinct and complementary purposes, both of which are important to family farmers and ranchers.
Restore funding for energy programs.
Farm Bill energy programs help family farmers and ranchers lower their environmental footprint, reduce their energy usage and improve their bottom lines.
Unfortunately, the bill eliminates mandatory funding for all of these programs, including the widely used Rural Energy for America Program (REAP).
Congress should restore mandatory funding for REAP and Farm Bill programs that promote development of the bio-economy in rural areas.
If you feel compelled, please reach out to our senators and representative and ask them improve the Farm Bill to bolster South Dakota's agriculture industry.