House Agriculture Committee hosts farm bill meetings
San Angelo, Texas – “Unlike 2014, where people didn’t understand why we needed ag support, this 50 percent drop in net farm income over the last four years – the worst since the Depression – will set a backdrop of why we need the programs and why we need a strong safety net, nutrition title, rural development title and energy title,” said House Committee on Agriculture Chairman Mike Conaway.
On July 31, the House Committee on Agriculture hosted a three-hour farm bill listening session at Angelo State University where producers, industry representatives and organizations alike attended to voice their stances for the 2018 Farm Bill.
“I appreciated hearing from Texas farmers and ranchers, and I am eager to take their input back to Washington, D.C. as we continue crafting the next farm bill,” said Conaway.
A common topic among many speakers was the need for affordable crop insurance.
“As commodity prices drop and costs increase, our financial exposure has seemed to have grown every year,” said Matthew Huey of Huey Farms. “The gap in our farm between my cost of production and my ability to insure is about $600,000.”
He continued, “When our production has to be 133 percent of our 10-year average to breakeven, I don’t have to be an accountant to know that’s not sustainable. We’re in a position now where we have to figure out how to close that gap between what our cost of production is and where we are.”
Young farmer Lindsay Bowers noted the new farm bill must maintain affordable crop insurance and oppose limitations that would discourage producers from participating.
“This is especially critical in our era where we face extreme weather conditions. The farm bill should be a living document that provides adequate and stable support for our farmers who are faced with a changing environment,” Bowers said.
Many speakers also asserted the need for a strong conservation title in the upcoming farm bill.
Richard Thorpe, president of the Texas Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association, commented that most producers think of Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), where landowners leverage their money with government funding on an improvement project.
He explained, “It works on a points system. The more points we get, the better chance we have of being awarded a federal EQIP contract. In a nutshell, the more money we’re willing to spend or put out, the better chance we have of getting an EQIP contract.”
However, this current strategy is not effective for landowners who only need to install one improvement or who have limited resources.
“We need to look at changes, so more people are allowed to use EQIP who have limited needs or limited financial resources,” Thorpe said.
Thorpe also commented that research money has been reduced over the last several farm bills.
“We need a really strong research title. We need this to be competitive,” commented Thorpe. “We have emerging diseases, and we need production research in a lot of different things.”
American Sheep Industry Vice President and Texas sheep producer Bennie Cox echoed Thorpe’s sentiment.
“We fully support Food and Drug Administration’s minor-use animal drug research for the sheep and goat industries,” he said.
Cox also cited the need for continued research funding for the National Sheep Industry Improvement Center.
Many speakers during the hearing also touched on the need to prioritize animal health in the 2018 Farm Bill.
“We need a strong animal health program. We’ve got a foot and mouth disease (FMD) problem in South America, and we import a lot of beef from there,” said Thorpe.
He noted FMD in the nation’s vaccine bank has expired, saying, “We’ve got to build that bank back up. It puts us at risk.”
Concerning the vaccine bank, Cox commented, “While we must do everything we can to reduce the risk of FMD, we also need to be prepared for an outbreak.”
Texas Farm Bureau President Russell Boening spoke briefly on the emerging fever tick concern in south Texas.
“We have a task force working on some issues and solutions. We hope to make that part of the farm bill discussion, so we can work on that devastating pest,” said Boening.
“Right now, it’s challenging for our current farmers to make it, but it’s much more difficult for young farmers to get started,” said Bowers. “The initial capital investment to get started is significant.”
She noted it is almost impossible for young producers to obtain land for their operation without having it transitioned to them.
Western Peanut Growers Association President and farmer Tony Diel stressed the dire situation facing young producers.
“A lot of us older producers are living off of equity, and these young farmers have no equity to get started on,” he commented. “The only way they have to get in is through their family, and it’s hard to get them going.”
Diel concluded, “In my hometown of Brownfield, Texas, there are five young producers who have gone out of business in the last three years. I see no future in our country if we don’t help our young producers get established.”
Emilee Gibb is editor of Wyoming Livestock Roundup and can be reached at email@example.com.