Agricultural organizations need to be working to revitalize the coalition between farmers and nutrition groups that has served them well in the past if they hope to pass a new farm bill in 2022 or 2023.
While it may seem early to be focusing on yet another farm bill, work needs to start now because of the challenges posed by the ongoing ag recession and COVID-19, according to Autumn Veazey Price, director of government relations for Land O'Lakes
"The coalition that has worked for a long time with the nutrition and agricultural communities obviously has been a successful one," said Price, who spoke during the Mid-South Agricultural and Environmental Law Conference. "But I think that coalition will have to become more closely aligned and support each other better."
If agriculture wants to retain the safety net provisions of the 2014 and 2018 farm bills at a time when the federal deficit has exploded due to the pandemic, "we have to broaden the conversation; we have to market ourselves better," said Price, who represents the farmer-owned cooperative in Washington, D.C.
"We talk about production agriculture, but there's so much more there. At Land O'Lakes, just to use our farmer-owned cooperative as an example, we have focused so much on the bottom lines of our producers. That's as it should be, but we've also learned we must broaden our view, that it's not just about crop protection programs and risk management but also about our rural communities."
Those communities are more than the farm families that live in them. The growing numbers of residents who don't farm and yet face the same problems as farmers must also be taken into consideration.
"Let's think about health care, let's think about telemedicine and e-learning and e-education," she noted. "And, really, the COVID pandemic has brought those issues more to life for Land O'Lakes."
She cited as an example a Land O'Lakes program that is designed to improve internet access for rural residents. "We have started turning on the public wi-fi in a number of our facilities — about 50 out of the 1,000 Land O'Lakes facilities at this point," she said.
"We have residents in these small communities driving to these Land O'Lakes' parking lots to use the public wi-fi for telemedicine, for e-learning, for e-education. I was a skeptic — I didn't think anyone would get in their car and do that. But we are seeing that play out new."
Both Price and Hunt Shipman, principal and director of Cornerstone Government Affairs, who also spoke during the meeting, said changes are likely in the make-up of the Senate and House agricultural committees after the fall elections.
"I'm hearing that Sen. John Bozeman, R-Ark., will become chairman of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry if Republicans retain control of the Senate," she said. "Rep. Colin Peterson, D-Minn., will remain chairman of the House Agriculture Committee if Democrats retain control of the House, as expected. Rep. Peterson faces a tough re-election campaign this year."