Locals hope for farm bill success


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From state legislators to farmers, Iowans hope to see a farm bill passed before September.
The American Farm Bureau sent a proposal for a farm bill to Congress on April 8 to be used as a framework for a new bill. The current extension of the old bill expires in September. The new proposal cuts $23 billion from the current program.

“The urgency is once again upon us,” said Craig Hill, the president of the Iowa Farm Bureau. “Nobody wants to go back to that ’49 act. We will be forced to do something before the end of September.”

Hill said the proposal has elements that deal with conservation, research, and aid for beginning farmers. This comes just prior to Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, and other members of the Agriculture Committee introducing a bill on April 25 to the Senate to aid younger and beginning farmers.

“This legislation will help families and individuals across our nation apply their talents, motivation, and dedication to start and continue farm and ranch operations and revitalize rural America,” Harkin said in a press release.  “Beginning farmers and ranchers will benefit from practical assistance in this bill, including effective training and mentoring, better access to and careful use of credit, enhanced support for conservation, and help in starting and succeeding in profitable enterprises such as value-added businesses.”

Hill said the most important aspect of the farm bill is the crop-insurance subsidies provided to cover part of crop insurance. The legislation that was passed in 1949 is too outdated to be sufficient for farming today.

“It’d be the same scenario as an auto manufacturer trying to fix a car today with 1949 parts,” local farmer Steve Swenka said.

Because the way federal government plans to help farmers can affect what the Iowa Legislature will do, Rep. Dave Jacoby, D-Coralville, agreed that passing a farm bill is important, but he questioned the timing of the American Farm Bureau Federation’s proposal.

“I’m a little concerned that they waited until now,” he said. “It’s a great initiative. It would have been best if it would have been rolled out in January.”

In an attempt to cut costs from the bill, the American Farm Bureau conceded direct payments from the government to farmers based on how much they plant per acre. Some agree this change is a good way to save money, while others say the payments are crucial to some farmers.

“In a government that spends way too much money already, there’s no reason we can’t cut from every sector, and I don’t see why direct payments can be on the chopping block,” said Black Hawk County farmer Ben Bader. “If you take away direct payments, the free market will take care of that lost income, and the price of commodities will reflect that.”

William Edwards, a professor in economics at Iowa State University, said in other parts of the country, crop prices haven’t risen over the years.

“For Southern crops like cotton and peanuts, direct payments are still pretty big for those crops, so they’re probably going to fight to keep those,” he said.

Rep. Chip Baltimore, R-Boone, said despite disagreements, a new farm bill is too important for securing a food supply for this country to be ignored.

“My hope is [Congress] will use it as a framework to start the discussion [and] figure out where they can agree,” he said. “We need to make sure we have the appropriate safety net out there.”

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