Senator Stabenow's Farm Bill Proposal Includes Critical Reforms

An influential new farm bill proposal demonstrates that engaged citizens of conscience are making a difference in advancing critical reforms. I harp often that it is up to us – ordinary Americans – to prompt change in Washington. You are doing it.

The farm bill proposal of Senate Agriculture Chair Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) is a testament to the cumulative effect of your letters and calls over decades. Called the Chair’s Mark – it is the starting point for all negotiation and is likely to be reflected in the final farm bill.

The Stabenow proposal closes the worst loopholes in farm program payment limitations; reduces crop insurance subsidies for tearing up native grasslands; and funds vital small business, rural community, value added agriculture, and beginning farmer programs.

It takes the critical first step in making payment limitations real and enforceable. Mega farms get around current limits by financing their operations with investors. With some skilled legal help, they count each investor as a farm partner who qualifies the operation for another set of payments up to the limit.

This bill would block that. It is a product of persistent advocacy by Senators Chuck Grassley (R-IA) and Tim Johnson (D-SD) who have long heeded your calls to cap mega farm payments. Representative Jeff Fortenberry (R-NE) introduced identical language in the House of Representatives.

The crop insurance reform to protect native grasslands reflects the advocacy of Senators John Thune (R-SD) and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) with support from Mike Johanns (R-NE), Michael Bennet (D-CO), Tom Harkin (D-IA), and Sherrod Brown (D-OH). Companion legislation was introduced in the House of Representatives by Tim Walz (D-MN) and Kristi Noem (R-SD). They heard your voices.

The funding for Rural Development Programs – small business, beginning farmer, value added agriculture, and small town programs – reflects the leadership of Senator Brown and Senator Stabenow herself. Both heard your voices. To her credit, Senator Stabenow was responsive to the voices of rural community leaders and organizations from across Michigan.

The beginning farmer provisions were introduced as a free-standing bill by Senator Harkin and Representative Walz, with a long list of bipartisan cosponsors, including Fortenberry, Colin Peterson (D-MN), Jon Tester (D-MT), and Chris Gibson (R-NY).

Of course this is not a perfect bill. The legislative process does not lend itself to perfection. But it does reward grassroots determination and persistence. The good things in this bill reflect that grassroots persistence –over decades.

Notice one thing about the list of congressional champions above. They all represent rural districts. That is where the battle to change federal farm and rural policy starts and ultimately must be won, with us.

So give yourself a pat on the back for fulfilling your responsibility as a citizen in American democracy. You are making a difference. And if you get a chance, thank Senator Stabenow and the others identified above. They will appreciate it and be more responsive next time.