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Washington Update: House and Senate Ag Committee staffers at Commodity Classic

Article cover photo
Staffers from both the House and Senate Agriculture Committees spoke with attendees at Commodity Classic in Orlando last week. Photo Credit: Joseph L. Murphy/Iowa Soybean Association

By Katie Johnson, ISA public relations manager

Representatives from Congressmen Collin Peterson and Mike Conaway with staffers from Senators Pat Roberts and Debbie Stabenow of the House and Senate Ag Committees spoke with Commodity Classic guests Saturday to answer questions on agricultural policy priorities in our nation’s capital.

What are must-do priorities on your committees this year?

Ann Timmons of Collin Peterson’s staff: We have all been focused on the Farm Bill for the last two years, so we know there are other issues we need to take a look at like Livestock Mandatory Price Reporting, reauthorization of the Grain Standards Act, Commodity Exchange Act, and of course Farm Bill implementation. We will always be focusing on issues like data and climate change, monitoring the farm economy, and concerns about the farm safety net.

Mike Schmidt of Debbie Stabenow’s staff: Later this month the President will propose his budget. If the past couple of budgets are any indication, it will include some large cuts in agriculture which is an unfortunate place to be in. There has been a proposed cut of 960 people from Farm Service Agency (FSA) offices. We shouldn’t be cutting; we should be adding staff during this time. That’s something we would like to spend time on. On the crop insurance side, let’s hope the opposition doesn’t go after it again. It’s an issue we need to buckle down on and folks who want to reform it.

Trevor White of Chairman Mike Conaway’s staff: Approval of the United States Mexico Canada Agreement (USMCA) is a big one. We are optimistic and hopeful to tee that up this year and move forward. Beyond that, we’re strapped in and ready to take suggestions from farmers.

What are you hearing when it comes to bankruptcies in your state?

Ann Timmons of Collin Peterson’s staff: Minnesota is losing two dairies per day. Adding more support for all sizes of dairy farmers and talking with their bankers and crop insurance agents is vital. Collin would love to sit down and tell them there is money on the table, but it won’t be available for a few more months. Getting their bankers to hang on for a bit longer is important.

Mike Schmidt of Debbie Stabenow’s staff: We sent a letter to the regulators after talking to the lenders to make them aware that changes are coming, that was one effort we got out there. Working with the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) and increasing the dairy margin is a priority. The reality is we lost 200 dairy farms in Michigan last year. Hopefully it’s not too late. The ones that have held on seem willing to hang on for another six months.

Going into this year without a Market Facilitation Program (MFP) payment on the horizon, can farmers look for another trade aid program if the trade war with China isn’t resolved?

Trevor White of Chairman Mike Conaway’s staff: If we get into the fall with no progress, it’s something to consider. But we know farmers want to play in the market and not be given a check. We also know there is leverage with China as we work to negotiate trade details with them. Hope springs eternal, you wouldn’t be a farmer if you weren’t optimistic. Unfortunately, right now with planting decisions, it’s not how much money you can make it’s how you can lose the least.

What can you tell us about broadband in rural communities?

Ann Timmons of Collin Peterson’s staff: Broadband is one of those things where we have been in a “map fight” for years. They tell us they don’t like the maps USDA provides to assist with coverage. Meanwhile we had a cotton farmer who was 20 miles from a Century Link office in Alabama and couldn’t get broadband. Why can’t the rural electrics do more? Those are the issues we are looking at. Working with rural telephone banks and making sure they can do more with rural customers has been successful in Minnesota. It took a $20 million loan, but they now have broadband. We need to tell the big telecom guys that they are clearly failing because there are still issues.

James Glueck of Pat Roberts’ staff: In the last two years, Congress has really recognized the need for rural broadband. There are bumps along the road, but you’ve got high levels of administration that are aware of the concern and know it firsthand. Senator Roberts comes from Kansas where this is a huge deal and Perdue was just discussing this week his visit to Western Nebraska where he had no service.

Will USMCA pass and with what timeline?

James Glueck of Pat Roberts’ staff: From a Congressional perspective, the nuts and bolts are still being worked out. We are trying to take a deep dive into the economic benefits. When you look back at historical trade agreements, they are overpromised and underdelivered but what we’ve seen with USMCA is the interest across the board in getting the agreement moved through Congress.

Mike Schmidt of Debbie Stabenow’s staff: At the high level it all sounds good, but getting those details done is what the members will want to see before we know what the votes are going to be. It’s too early to know what the path is but there’s a willingness to look at it and it’s not being rejected at this point. The U.S. chamber of commerce is going to work with both parties and that is reassuring.

The Ag Committee representatives closed the discussion with a reminder to constituents to have conversations with their elected officials and stressed the importance of having elected officials from farm backgrounds in office.

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