Backed by 88 agriculture organizations and associations, the recently-formed Farm Bill Now coalition held a Wednesday rally on Capitol Hill aiming to push lawmakers to move a new farm bill. The legislation has stalled in the House with current law is set to expire September 30.
“Perhaps never in the history of farm legislation have so many diverse farmer and rancher voices joined together for such a common call for action on a farm bill,” said Bob Stallman, American Farm Bureau Federation president, during the event. “We gather here under a banner adorned with three words: farm bill now. And we are here to raise our voices toward Capitol Hill … for a shared purpose.”
Congressional members who spoke at the event included Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Kansas Sen. Jerry Moran, Minnesota Rep. Collin Peterson, ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee, and South Dakota Rep. Kristi Noem.
Jon Scholl, American Farmland Trust President, said passage of a new, comprehensive, five-year new farm bill before the current bill expires is imperative because farmers and ranchers rely on farm bill conservation programs to be good stewards of our natural resources and the environment.
This year’s drought, which has affected every sector of agriculture, makes it especially important that farmers have access to short-term and long-term farm bill conservation programs to protect fragile soils, restore wetlands and conserve precious water.
“This year’s drought has affected every sector of agriculture. More than 1,800 counties in 38 states have been declared natural disaster areas,” said Scholl. “There are both immediate and long-term impacts from this drought, and we need the right policy in place to address those impacts -- especially those on the landscape.
“The drought and the wildfires across the country make millions of acres vulnerable to other weather events, such as fall rainstorms or snowmelt runoff in the spring. The farm bill offers ways now to begin protecting these vulnerable acres.”
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Addressing Congress, Gary Niemeyer, National Corn Growers Association President, said, “Do your job! … America needs a new, five-year comprehensive farm bill now. Agriculture is one of the few bright spots in the American economy. We continue to be more productive and innovative. But we need to have some certainty about how we plan our business. And that is exactly what the farm bill does.
"The groups here today are diverse in what we want in the bill, but unified in saying we need a new, five-year farm bill. Congress has known for 1,732 days that the current farm bill is going to expire on September 30th. We are tired of the excuses as to why the new farm bill isn't done. We need Congress to come together and pass a farm bill now!"
Jerry Kozak, National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF) President and CEO, said that if Congress can’t generate the necessary effort to pass a new farm bill this year, the organization would not support an extension of current dairy programs, and instead would insist on getting the Dairy Security Act -- the dairy reform bill already included in the Senate version of the farm bill -- included in any extension package of other farm programs.
“We’ve come too far to acquiesce to another serving of the status quo. Dairy farmers need more than platitudes from Congress -- we need action and leadership,” he said.
Ken Nobis, NMPF First Vice Chairman, a dairy farmer from St. John, Michigan, told those assembled that politics shouldn’t stand in the way of helping America’s farmers.
“Dairy farmers have worked with Democrats and Republicans, in the Senate and the House, to create a farm bill that saves taxpayers money, and at the same time offers dairy producers a more effective safety net when times are tough,” Nobis said. “It would be a tragic mistake, after this bill has already passed the Senate, and the House Agriculture Committee, to let it wither and die on the political vine, rather than make the necessary effort to get it passed in the coming weeks.”
Nobis reminded lawmakers that the dairy reforms included in the new farm bill will reduce government expenditures compared to current policy, which should appeal to those members of the House concerned with the deficit.
“If the question in Washington is how to reform government programs and make them more effective, we have an answer: pass the 2012 farm bill. The dairy title, along with the rest of the program, is budget-friendly. By not acting on this measure, Congress actually increases federal spending next year,” Nobis said.