Today the agriculture community is celebrating National Ag Day, a time to reflect on the contributions agriculture makes to all of us who depend on the food, feed, fuel and fiber that family farmers and ranchers produce. It’s easy for consumers to take for granted the food that appears in their grocery cart, especially since fewer and fewer Americans have direct ties to the farm themselves, so this is a good opportunity to remind everyone about the value of our nation’s food producers.
Unfortunately, Congress is providing some perfect examples of why we need the public to focus on agriculture and its importance to our economy – not just today, but always. First, the absence of a new five-year farm bill: last year, the agriculture committees in both houses of Congress wrote and passed a new, bipartisan, fiscally responsible farm bill, and the full Senate passed its version of the legislation. After Senate passage, all eyes turned to the House as week after week passed without any indication from the leadership that the legislation would be given floor time. The 2008 Farm Bill’s September expiration date came and went, and again, House leadership remained silent. The agriculture community was nearly unanimous in its support for passing a new bill before the end of the legislative session – a rare occurrence. Despite this broad support, Congress passed a one-year extension of the 2008 Farm Bill that defunded many important programs and eliminated all of the previous year’s work on a bill that would have provided an effective safety net for farmers and ranchers while reducing our federal deficit.
This uncertain environment didn’t end with the last Congress. The House and Senate Agriculture Committees are eager to begin work on another bill, but this work will be delayed until later this spring because of budgetary uncertainty. And there is certainly no assurance that the same can-kicking won’t happen again after the committee markup process is complete.
To add further insult to an already dismal farm policy environment, several farmer-unfriendly policy riders were stuck into the legislation Congress is currently debating to continue to fund the government past March 27, the date current funding ends. For example, a provision preventing implementation of the Grain Inspection, Packers and Stockyards Administration (GIPSA) rule to help protect poultry growers from some abusive practices by processors is included in both the House-passed appropriations bill, and the bill that the Senate could pass as soon as this evening. The final GIPSA rule isn’t even the more comprehensive version that NFU fought hard for against misinformation from packers and processors, but Congress has taken away even this small victory by allowing this policy rider to remain in a spending bill. The legislation also includes a misguided provision allowing the sale of new genetically modified crops even while the courts evaluate the safety and impact of these new biotech traits on farmers, consumers and the environment.
On this Ag Day, you can do your part by reminding your members of Congress to remember who puts the food on their plates. None of us can afford to find out what happens when family farmers and ranchers are no longer able to do so.