Published in the Des Moines Register on Thursday, Sept. 27
America’s farmers and ranchers are struggling. With steep input costs, low commodity prices, corporate competition and weather extremes, it’s a tough time to be a farmer in America. As if that weren’t enough, some lawmakers are using producers as political pawns.
Farming isn’t a game. It’s a challenging, yet rewarding, reality for farm families like mine, and the stakes are high. Farmers and ranchers need stability and have asked for a safety net with common-sense and fair farm bill policies. Meanwhile, it seems Congress is ignoring these pragmatic requests. Personal interests and a deep-rooted reluctance to communicate across the table have clouded lawmakers’ judgment – which puts politics over the livelihood of rural America, and leaves producers high and dry.
The farm bill safety net is not just crop insurance and commodity programs. Producers rely on other farm bill programs for much-needed resources, technical assistance, and education that help them farm sustainably, tap into new markets, and meet consumer demand.
If the farm bill expires, many important programs will simply halt. For example:
- The Conservation Stewardship Program, which has allowed farmers and ranchers to implement conservation practices on more than 70 million acres, will cease any new enrollments or renewals. Similarly, other flagship conservation programs – the Conservation Reserve Program, the Agricultural Conservation Easement Program, and the Regional Conservation Partnership Program – must also close their doors to new enrollments.
- Programs such as the Value-Added Producer Grants, Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, and Rural Microentrepreneur Assistance Program provide many paths for producers to build and improve their businesses. This benefits their rural communities and local economies. If Congress doesn’t act, these paths to vibrancy for rural America will vanish.
Here are a few questions for our lawmakers’ consideration:
- Have you ever sat across from your banker while holding your breath, only to hear you may not be able to farm next year?
- Or, maybe you hear you can farm next year, but only if you sell your land and/or equipment?
- Have you ever been a beginning or socially disadvantaged farmer with dreams of farming, only to learn of countless structural and financial barriers stacked against you?
- Have you ever gone to bed at night wondering how you will feed your family when your farm income is in the red?
Our country’s 3 million producers wrestle with tough questions like these every day. But with only 26 farmers, ranchers or cattle farm owners among the 535 members of the House and Senate, most of Congress cannot fathom the pressures on producers in today’s tumultuous agricultural economy.
Despite the many benefits that the above programs deliver to rural America, some members of Congress believe a farm bill expiration will have no significant impact on producers. This is a grave misjudgment.
Remember: Whether or not Congress makes the right decision, farmers and ranchers will be harvesting in the fields, caring for and feeding livestock, and trying to sell their goods at markets across the country, just as they have done year after year. We’ll continue to work hard and make sacrifices – but, without a farm bill the struggle will be unnecessarily harder.
Lawmakers – consider our families and our livelihoods. Use your better judgment and pass a farm bill extension. America’s farmers and ranchers need a farm bill – don’t make the irresponsible decision to let the current farm bill expire.
Feature photo: Cora lives in western Iowa, and this is her road home. | Photo by Cora Fox
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