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The farm bill is more important than politics

Cowtowns & Skyscarpers: For the first time in decades in Kansas, we’re writing a farm bill without Sen. Roberts and Barry Flinchbaugh.

Jennifer M. Latzke, Editor

June 23, 2023

4 Min Read
American Flag in front of USDA building
PEOPLE’S BILL: For the first time in decades, we’re writing a farm bill without Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., and Kansas State University’s Barry Flinchbaugh providing insights and experience.sharrocks/Getty Images

This year marks the first year in my professional life that retired U.S. Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., is not sitting in on deliberations over a farm bill. It’s also the first year we go into farm bill talks without the irascible wit and wisdom of Barry Flinchbaugh, the late Kansas State University professor of agricultural economics.

To be quite honest, I think we’re going to miss their leadership in this process more than we can fathom.

Deja vu

Roberts and Flinchbaugh were pros at the fine negotiations that go into writing a farm bill. That institutional experience helped them — they’d either seen it, done it, or written about how we shouldn’t do it again.

The example that comes to mind is 2013. Come take a quick time hop with me.

Picture it — Washington, D.C., 2013, and then-Speaker of the House John Boehner, R-Ohio, was dealing with a fractured group of House Republicans who took the majority in the midterms.

The House couldn’t pass a farm bill in June, and so talks started swirling about separating nutrition programs from farm programs. Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., then the chairman of the House Agriculture Committee but still a member now, grudgingly approved the plan. This would end a rural-urban coalition of 40 years, give or take that essentially ensured every member on the Hill had a reason to vote for this bill.

On the Senate side, Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee then and now, said in effect, not on her watch.

Lines were drawn. But voices of experience and measured reason, like Roberts and others, prevailed. A compromise was eventually reached. And that’s how we got the Agricultural Act of 2014 passed by Congress, two years after its predecessor — the Food, Conservation and Energy Act of 2008 — had expired.

Same argument

Now, consider where we are today.

House Speaker Kevin McCarthy, R-Calif., has a majority that is fractious and once again, Stabenow is in the chairwoman’s seat on the Senate Ag Committee. The House GOP budget hawks are not pleased with the deal McCarthy struck with President Joe Biden on the debt limit, and have shown they are willing to vote against his leadership. Some are already talking about putting roadblocks in the way of the farm bill.

Does all this sound familiar to anyone else?

It seems like we keep circling the same discussions time and time again when it comes to hashing out and funding a farm bill.

Except the stakes keep getting higher and higher.

Ongoing drought has farmers concerned about their crops and livestock this year, and the future may bring even greater disasters that could affect our sustainability. Inflation and interest rates have farmers concerned about inputs and land costs today — and how that affects their family farms tomorrow. The pandemic showed us how vulnerable our society is to food insecurity, even those who never faced it before.

There is no guarantee that we couldn’t see greater challenges in the next five years that would test the farm bill’s safety net functionality.

The people’s bill

The 2018 Farm Bill has 12 titles. Each one has some impact on our families, our farms and our communities.

It could be argued — and I have in the past — that of all the bills that get passed on Capitol Hill, this one alone has more impact on our local lives than any others. If you drill down into the farm bill, it’s probably the bill that covers the majority of Americans, no matter their political affiliation, their district or any other identifying characteristic.

It's bigger than politics. It’s the people’s bill. A bill that provides for our environmental, social and nutritional security.

Imperfect as it can be, that’s what I always took away from hearing Roberts and Flinchbaugh talk about the Farm Bill. As a Kansan, I took comfort that Roberts could be that measured, wiser voice of reason for the farmer’s side. And, as a K-Stater, I always appreciated Flinchbaugh’s tell-it-like-it-is bluntness about the process and why nutrition and farm programs are tied together.

They left awfully big shoes to fill. But I have faith that people they trained indeed listened and learned. I have hope that measured voices will emerge in the coming months, reminding others that the farm bill is bigger than politics.

About the Author(s)

Jennifer M. Latzke

Editor, Kansas Farmer

Through all her travels, Jennifer M. Latzke knows that there is no place like Kansas.

Jennifer grew up on her family’s multigenerational registered Angus seedstock ranch and diversified farm just north of Woodbine, Kan., about 30 minutes south of Junction City on the edge of the Kansas Flint Hills. Rock Springs Ranch State 4-H Center was in her family’s backyard.

While at Kansas State University, Jennifer was a member of the Sigma Kappa Sorority and a national officer for the Agricultural Communicators of Tomorrow. She graduated in May 2000 with a bachelor’s degree in agricultural communications and a minor in animal science. In August 2000 Jennifer started her 20-year agricultural writing career in Dodge City, Kan., on the far southwest corner of the state.

She’s traveled across the U.S. writing on wheat, sorghum, corn, cotton, dairy and beef stories as well as breaking news and policy at the local, state and national levels. Latzke has traveled across Mexico and South America with the U.S. Wheat Associates and toured Vietnam as a member of KARL Class X. She’s traveled to Argentina as one of 10 IFAJ-Alltech Young Leaders in Agricultural Journalism. And she was part of a delegation of AAEA: The Ag Communicators Network members invited to Cuba.

Jennifer’s an award-winning writer, columnist, and podcaster, recognized by the Kansas Professional Communicators, Kansas Press Association, the National Federation of Presswomen, Livestock Publications Council, and AAEA. In 2019, Jennifer reached the pinnacle of achievements, earning the title of “Writer of Merit” from AAEA.

Trips and accolades are lovely, but Jennifer says she is happiest on the road talking to farmers and ranchers and gathering stories and photos to share with readers.

“It’s an honor and a great responsibility to be able to tell someone’s story and bring them recognition for their work on the land,” Jennifer says. “But my role is also evolving to help our more urban neighbors understand the issues our Kansas farmers face in bringing the food and fiber to their store shelves.”

She spends her time gardening, crafting, watching K-State football, and cheering on her nephews and niece in their 4-H projects. She can be found on Twitter at @Latzke.

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