At the first listening session by legislators seeking to renew the five-year farm bill, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Glenn G.T. Thompson (R-Pennsylvania) stressed the importance of bipartisan action to gain approval by a September deadline. The bill will ultimately set the course for spending some $1.4 trillion over the next ten years, so it’s a big deal for farmers, consumers, and all who value the land and want to conserve and protect it, including the members and partners of the Mississippi Valley Conservancy.
Thompson’s assertion that the bill affects everyone in the country, soon played out in the citizens’ 3-minute comments over two hours in Tulare County, California on Feb. 14. For example, a representative of Ducks Unlimited told the lawmakers that conservation programs such as agricultural easement program and the Environmental Quality Incentive Program (EQIP) – an important contributor to MVC’s restoration efforts – are “oversubscribed,” meaning there are not enough funds to meet high demand.
With divided government – the House controlled by Republicans and the Senate by Democrats – a bipartisan bill is a must. The Farm Bill has had a history of bipartisan agreements gained by compromises on contentious issues. This year will be no different, as Democrats on the committee want to make farmers partners in fostering climate change sustainability while a prominent Republican on the committee warns against “railroading” farmers into climate action. Agriculture interests will push for programs that remain voluntary with compensation for participation.
The elephant in the farm bill chambers is the nutrition program, primarily SNAP (formerly food stamps), which consumes some 76 percent of the funding in the latest bill, and even more, if some of the supplements in benefits that came during the pandemic are retained in the future. Other claims on funding include Forest Service needs for fire fighting, crop insurance for rising losses in extreme weather, and efforts to link the bill to immigration reform so farmers will have a dependable supply of labor. The portion of money allotted to conservation is likely to grow from only about 7 percent in the existing bill.
Supplemental spending that was not part of the Farm Bill was huge due to the pandemic. Farm Bill negotiators will review those spending levels, according to the Congressional Research Service (CRS), which provides Farm Bill details at https://sgp.fas.org/crs/misc/RS22131.pdf.
Jim Costa (D-CA) said at the end of the first hearing that legislators regarded food as a national security issue, hence the bipartisan nature of the bill. “We’ll get it done,” said Kevin McCarthy, House Speaker, who also promised a bipartisan bill.
The Conservancy will follow the Farm Bill negotiations and provide a heads-up when there are opportunities to make comments to legislators.
Derrick Van Orden, a Republican newly elected to represent Wisconsin’s Third Congressional District, which includes the Driftless Area, is a member of the House Agriculture Committee. He has said recently that he wants to work for a bipartisan bill and wants to hear from constituents. His La Crosse officer is at 210 7th St S Suite 204, La Crosse, WI 54601 Phone: (608) 782-2558 or (202) 225-5506