By Sherry Bunting, previously published in Farmshine
HARRISBURG, Pa. – “It’s crunch time and we are obligated to get this done on time and get it done right,” the new U.S. House Ag Committee Chaiman G.T. Thompson (15th-Penna.) told a packed room attending his first listening session for the 2023 Farm Bill on Jan. 13 during the Pennsylvania Farm Show in Harrisburg.
Thompson is the first Congressman from the Keystone State to chair the Ag Committee since 1855.
“We’re a little overdue,” he said, indicating he is proud and humbled to serve as he introduced eight of his colleagues joining him for the listening session, where 20 people from a diverse spectrum of agriculture and nutrition testified.
Thompson encouraged more feedback by scanning the QR code on signage posted around the room (or click here).
“We want to hear from rural America and the farmers who touch the lives of every American more times a day than any other industry,” said Thompson.
Joining him from Washington were several Ag Committee members who were officially named four days later on January 17: Austin Scott (8th-Ga.), Doug LaMalfa (1st-Calif.), Mark Alford (4th-Mo.), Chellie Pingree (1st-Maine), Mary Miller (15th-Ill.) and Derrick Van Orden (3rd-Wis.). Also joining the panel of lawmakers were Dwight Evans (3rd-Pa.), who formerly served on the House Ag Committee but is now on the Ways and Means Committee as well as Dan Meuser (9th-Penna.) serving on the Finance Committee.
Pennsylvania Ag Secretary Russell Redding (above left) also participated, and it was announced that Redding has agreed to stay on as the Commonwealth’s Ag Secretary under incoming Governor Josh Shapiro. Chairman Thompson (above right) noted that Pennsylvania is the first to also have a state farm bill, which Redding said would not be possible without a federal farm bill.
On the importance of research, Dean Roush represented the Penn State College of Ag Sciences, stressing the need for more investment in land grant universities.
“A nation that controls its food controls its destiny. We are being outspent by China and others,” he said.
Crop insurance was deemed critical by many who testified, and suggestions were given to make good programs better and to make them easier for diverse farmers to participate.
On dairy, representing the Pennsylvania Dairymen’s Association, executive director Dave Smith, a dairy farmer in Lebanon County, said having a reliable workforce is essential, and he highlighted crop insurance and the Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) program.
Smith said the Supplemental DMC was helpful in 2021, but that dairy farmers should have the opportunity to bring their production history more current. He also said the coverage cap for tier one should be raised to more adequately reflect the average U.S. herd size of 316 cows as of 2021.
Smith called for Congress to “make a good program better” by raising the highest coverage level above the current margin of $9.50 per hundredweight as other farm costs are going up that are not included in the milk over feed cost margin.
On milk pricing, Smith said real reforms are needed, but should be accomplished through federal order hearings, not through legislation.
“That process allows industry professionals to examine proposals more thoroughly,” said Smith as he touched on the Class I pricing change made in the last Farm Bill that was exacerbated by the pandemic and led to disorderly marketing.
“The Federal Milk Marketing Orders were established to ensure orderly marketing,” said Smith. “It’s failing and has led to a significant loss of dairy farmers. The Class I change was made with the best of intentions but has led to lost revenue.”
Smith concluded by stressing the need to get legislation over the finish line that restores whole milk in schools and allows whole milk to be offered throughout the government’s charitable feeding programs.
(Representing the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee was yours truly. In my testimony, I thanked G.T. Thompson for his sponsorship of the legislation seeking to bring whole milk choice back to schools, and that even though this doesn’t fall under the Farm Bill, the Nutrition Title should exempt nutrient-dense foods, like whole milk, from the out-dated and arbitrary fat limits of the Dietary Guidelines. I noted the poor performance of the Class I change made in the last Farm Bill and expressed farmer concerns on emissions tracking and how methane is calculated. See my full written testimony here.)
Frank Stoltzfus, a Lancaster County beef producer representing the Pennsylvania Cattlemen’s Association and NCBA (recently elected to the executive board), said a livestock title is “not necessary in the farm bill. We don’t want one. We don’t want to open the door to unnecessary regulations and mandates.”
However, he did cite the importance of strengthening risk management tools, disaster recovery, animal health and conservation programs to remain voluntary and incentive-based, where farmers are recognized for what they have already done for the environment.
“We are pretty good at this,” said Stoltzfus. “We can do it with your help.”
He also stressed that farm policy and climate policy should recognize cattle as a solution, not a problem — that beef cows efficiently use land not suited to crops to produce protein, nutrient dense food, that is “necessary for the sustaining of America and its people.” He applauded Chairman Thompson for adopting this position.
“Cattle take land that is too-something — too steep, too wet, too rocky, too-something — and they naturally turn that into a valuable food product,” said Stoltzfus, a past environmental stewardship award winner.
“Cattlemen and take blue sky and green grass and make red meat — a protein that really feeds the world,” he said.
A full house of farmers and ag-interested people attended House Ag Committee Chairman G.T. Thompson’s 2023 Farm Bill listening session at the Pennsylvania Farm Show last week.
Rep. Doug LaMalfa, chair of the Conservation and Forestry subcommittee, picked up on this. His family grows rice in northern California, and he was blunt.
“I would caution folks with cattle, that when cows are vilified on methane, stay strong. Don’t be pulled into that. Don’t be railroaded into doing all of this climate stuff,” said LaMalfa.
He went on to note his concern about the electric conversion of everything, mentioning the talk recently about banning gas-powered stoves and generators.
“We need to take a lot of this with a grain of salt and apply commonsense. We have a lot of commonsense in Rural America,” said LaMalfa.
Earlier in the listening session, Shawn Wolfinger of Horizon Farm Credit touched on climate, noting that “Agriculture is part of the solution for mitigating the impact, but our ask is that the farm bill provide voluntary, incentive-based assistance and that private sector and ag lending not be required to be conditioned on adoption of certain ag practices,” he said.
Conservation programs were highlighted as critical to agriculture and ecosystems, but testifiers noted these programs are 50% oversubscribed and need more funding to provide voluntary, incentive-based assistance to more farms.
Rep. Pingree of Maine said streamlining conservation programs so they are easier to use by small and specialty crop farms and dealing with food waste are important for the future. “We want to treat farmers as partners – our best partners – in renewable energy, innovation and research. We have to work hand-in-hand,” she said.
National Farmers Union president Michael Kovach highlighted the need for “decentralization of our food system” and “renewal of our soils.”
Representatives for Pennsylvania Farm Bureau and Pennsylvania Corn Growers both stressed the need for robust crop insurance programs to manage risk.
Among the panel of lawmakers, Rep. Austin Scott from Georgia, chairman of the subcommittee on General Commodities and Risk Management, made it clear these tools “are there to reduce risk, not guarantee profit.”
He said reference prices have not been updated since 2004, so that’s on tap for re-evaluation in this round, along with loan rates.
Rep. Mark Alford of the ‘show me’ state, said he comes from the media world with a career in television news and a desire to get the important farm bill messages out there.
“Our food security is our national security,” he said, noting his goals for a Farm Bill in which “farmers are protected, the nation is fed, children are healthy and we are good stewards of God’s resources.”
Rep. Mary Miller of Illinois, took the opportunity to state her support for whole milk for healthy kids. “We raise corn, cattle and kids,” she said. “Our seven children are all trim and healthy adults and they grew up on whole milk.”
Rep. Derrick Van Orden of Wisconsin said he looks forward to being a new member on the Ag Committee and is a firm believer that “milk comes from cows, not from nuts.”
He also touched on the need to reset baselines, look at the Federal Milk Marketing Orders and to reinforce nutrition in programs like SNAP.
There is no time like the present to get nutrition right. That was a central message pointed out by Joe Arthur, testifying as director of the Central Penn Food Bank, part of the Feeding America network.
“The food crisis is not over and we fear it might be deepening,” he said.
Stating the importance of the SNAP, WIC and TEFAP programs as a lifeline for food and nutrition, Arthur said one goal should be to strengthen the partnership with local farms when their markets face disruptions.
“We are now well beyond the pandemic, and the crisis of inflation and food system supply chain challenges are almost as impactful as the height of the pandemic,” he said. “We saw 20% more food bank distribution in 2022 than in 2019.”
Rep. Evans from Pennsylvania noted the importance of bridging the language gap between urban and rural for better understanding. “We are all in this together,” he said.
For his part, Pennsylvania’s continuing Ag Secretary Redding thanked Chairman Thompson for bringing the Farm Bill information-gathering process to Pennsylvania. He stressed that farm policy at the federal and state levels is critical to “food, jobs and quality of life. It’s rural and urban, west and east, north and south, and the pieces need to fit together and find that equilibrium.”
“We need all of you involved in this process,” said Thompson. “The only way to get it right, to restore a robust rural economy and grow it, is for farmers to be at the table and stay at the table.”
Pennsylvania dairy farmers Dale Hoffman (left) of Potter County and Nelson Troutman of Berks County are both members of the Grassroots PA Dairy Advisory Committee and attended the 2023 Farm Bill listening session Jan. 13 at the Pennsylvania Farm Show.
Berks County dairy farmer Nelson Troutman attended the Farm Bill listening session wearing his Drink Whole Milk – 97milk.com hat. In fact, he reports that Congresswoman Mary Miller of Illinois, who was recently named to the House Ag Committee, noticed his cap and came right over to him before the Farm Bill listening session began. She told him how much she loves whole milk and appreciates this education effort. He is pictured after the listening session with grandchildren (l-r) Emma, Madalyn, Jace, and Nolan.