MFU Holds Session Examining the Potential of the 2018 Farm Bill in Great Falls
Great Falls- (June 28, 2017) Montana Farmers Union is getting a jumpstart on the 2018 Farm Bill conversation and more broadly on encouraging a stronger farmer to consumer connection. MFU held a Farm Bill informational session at the Heritage Inn in Great Falls this week. In addition to talking about the expiration of the 2014 Farm Bill and projections for the legislation set to expire in September of 2018, two panels of industry experts talked about the ways the Farm Bill impacts the consumer, the business community and producers.
The panel included the Director of Agriculture Ben Thomas and Director of Livestock Mike Honeycutt, Lorianne Burhop with the Montana Food Bank Network, Brian Hoven of Hoven Equipment, Janet Smith and Rusty Cowan with Farm Service Agency, Matt Perdue of National Farmers Union and Jeff Dow of Farmers Union Insurance. The goal of the diversity of the panels was to provide education on the effects the Farm Bill has rural Montana, producers, consumers and agribusiness.
“The Farm Bill really should be called a food bill,” said Alan Merrill, President. “The program today was to inform the consumer not only what it takes to make a successful Farm Bill, but also to teach the public what farmers and ranchers go through. We certainly appreciate the panelist’s time and expertise. It made for great conversation and an excellent learning opportunity.”
Among the topics addressed were farm payments including ARC (spell out) and PLC by Rusty Cowan and Janet Smith with Farm Service Agency. In addition a very important piece of the Farm Bill includes crop insurance as a risk management tool. There is talk that there could be a cap on the subsidies and a reduction in coverage level. Jeff Dow with Farmers Union Insurance talked about the potential cuts and how they impact they could have on producer. “It’s a safety net for mother nature, but just looking at yield protection covering bushel loss. Revenue protection is the most popular policy out there,” said Dow.
Hoven went on to talk about how drought and commodity prices over the years affect not only his bottom line, but his ability to maintain his business and provide benefits for his employees. “When you take a 40 percent hit to the family budget and then borrow more money it can be very difficult. The farm program is a big deal to us and I certainly hope that a reasonable plan will get passed and I expect that it will.”
One component of the Farm Bill often overlooked is the nutrition program including the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program referred to as SNAP. Nearly 80 percent of the funding within the Farm Bill supports this program. Lorianne Burhop with the Montana Food Bank Network talked about the importance of SNAP for Montana families and why groups need to work together. SNAP contributes 170 million dollars each year to the Montana economy. Burhop said they expect to see significant threats to SNAP at the federal level.
“The Farm Bill is really a food bill bringing together both sides of our food system the food producers and consumers,” said Burhop. “It demonstrates the connection between agriculture and nutrition. We all have a stake in a well-nourished, food secure population.”
In addition at the event was the Director of the Montana Department of Livestock to talk about how Farm Bill funding affects the livestock industry and agency. The agency receives 20 percent of their budget from the federal government. “This includes funding for meat inspection, milk and eggs inspection and livestock disease mediation, said Honeycutt. “If we don’t get the current level of funding from the Farm Bill we will be forced to increase user and producer fees and make some tough choices as to what programs we can and can’t support.”
Also from the State of Montana was the Director of the Department of Agriculture Ben Thomas. Thomas discussed ways the role the Farm Bill has on the agency’s budget and his hopes for the 2018 bill. “Funding from this legislation is critical to sustaining the level of industry production we currently have.”
Matt Perdue with National Farmers Union also served on the panel. Perdue provided a unique perspective on rural development and how that relates to the Farm Bill. “Net Farm income is expected to be 50 percent lower than in the 2013 when the 2014 Farm Bill was written. There is a real incentive from Congress’ perspective to make sure that we get a new Farm Bill passed and that we have the protection and safety nets necessary including crop insurance programs and that ARC and PLC are effective.”
The bulk of work on the Farm Bill is expected to begin late this year and early next year.