Farmer Fly-In Offers Congressional Leaders Input on Farm Bill

Farmers and rural leaders headed to Washington, DC in March to lobby on the Farm Bill. Congress was finalizing its spending bills, so it was a good time get their ear.

William Powers, a farmer and executive director of the Nebraska Sustainable Agriculture Society, urged legislators to restore funding in critical programs that invest in beginning farmers and ranchers.

The Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program is an example. It helped the Nebraska Sustainable Ag Society, the Center, and other partners train and mentor beginning farmers so they could launch into agriculture.

We also urged support for the Rural Microenterprise Assistance Program. It helped organizations across the country provide loans and technical assistance to small town, main street businesses.
Another big issue was the Conservation Stewardship Program. It suffered cuts in the short-term funding bill last year. By fixing that, USDA could move forward with enrollment for 2013.

Greg Brokaw, a farmer/rancher from Ashley, ND, shared his concerns with his new Senator Heidi Heitkamp. Greg has seen significant conversion of native grassland to cropland, noting that subsidized crop insurance is the guiding force. Greg supports including a Sodsaver provision in a new five-year farm bill.

A recent study published by South Dakota State University drives home this very point. Between 2006 and 2011, North and South Dakota led all states in converting grassland to cropland in less suitable areas for producing corn. The report suggests federal crop insurance encouraged that expansion because it helps manage the financial risk of corn crops in less suitable climates.

Greg is also concerned with the impact unlimited crop insurance premium subsidies are having on rural communities. He believes the policy is abused and should be targeted to small and mid-size family farmers and ranchers.

Robert Bernt, a farmer from Spaulding, NE, raised his support for the Value Added Producer Grant Program. While it has a small amount of money this year, we need a five-year farm bill to fund the program long term. It helped Robert establish his organic, grassfed dairy, and he sells products locally across Nebraska and in parts of Iowa.

At the end of the day, our meetings were about moving Congress in the direction of passing a five-year farm bill that prioritizes what they heard from the farmers. Invest in beginning farmers and ranchers, small town businesses, and conservation of the land and water.