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Congressmen hearing wide range of concerns as crafting of next farm bill begins

House Agriculture Committee holding a field hearing.
LISTENING: The House Agriculture Committee held field hearings in Texas and Minnesota during the first days of August. Chairman Mike Conaway is committed to seeing a bill done this year or early next.
Chairman Mike Conaway says he’s heard concerns ranging from cotton and dairy to farm labor, but getting it done is tops.

Editor’s Note: This is the second in a series of articles looking at issues surrounding the debate on the 2018 Farm Bill.

Like their counterparts in the Senate, members of the U.S. House of Representatives Agriculture Committee have been holding field hearings, bringing in witnesses and talking to their constituents as they prepare for the hard work of crafting a 2018 Farm Bill.

That work gets underway in earnest this fall as Congress tries to get the legislation out of the way before campaign season heats up for the 2018 midterm elections.

House Ag Committee chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, held field hearings in Texas and in Ranking Member Collin Peterson’s home state of Minnesota during the first days of August as all of Congress prepared to head home for the August recess. Most members of the committee planned a robust schedule of town hall meetings with their constituents to gather as wide a range of ideas as possible.

Here are responses from Conaway to questions posed by Kansas Farmer by email on how he sees the process shaping up.

Q. What have you been hearing from witnesses as their greatest concerns?

A. “One of the things I’ve really valued about the listening sessions we’ve held across the country is the opportunity they provide for members of our committee to hear from a wide cross-section of producers — many of whom have concerns outside of what many of us hear within our districts. Everything from cotton and dairy policy, to citrus greening, to farm labor have been topics at our listening sessions. But ultimately, what I think all producers agree on is the need to pass the farm bill and get it done on time. I’m committed to doing so and hope to move a farm bill across the House floor in Q4 of this year or Q1 of next year.”

Q. Senate leaders said cotton and dairy programs need critical fixes. What is the House looking at as a possible path to getting those issues resolved?

A. “We saw the problems in cotton country coming early on, which is why since I became chairman I have been exploring options to provide some immediate relief, and a long-term solution to this problem. Bottom line, cotton farmers need to have access to the same risk management tools that are available to other crops, and dairymen need an adequate safety net as well. I am committed to seeing that happen in the next farm bill, if not sooner.”

Q. Do you see any chance of a move to split the nutrition title out of the farm bill coming up again?

A. “Like I have said repeatedly, I am committed to reauthorizing all parts of the farm bill on time. At this point, it seems like keeping farm and nutrition programs together is the best path forward. However, I am willing to do whatever it takes to get the ball across the goal line. I wish more folks would focus on helping me make sure that we get the policy right, rather than worrying about the process by which we get there.”

Q. With the president’s budget calling for zero budget for USDA Rural Development, will it be a fight to get those programs into the bill?

A. “Based on a number of indicators from the administration since the budget was released, I don’t believe that the president’s intentions were necessarily represented. I think we have a strong advocate for production agriculture and rural America in Secretary [Sonny] Perdue, and I expect he will continue making the case to the White House for the need for continued investment in rural development.”

Q. Secretary Perdue has said he will fight to maintain Rural Development programs. Will House members support him in that effort?

“I take Secretary Perdue at his word that his changes at USDA will elevate Rural Development’s importance at the department. Our committee will continue watching the implementation of the structural changes closely.”

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