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LISTEN UP: Pennsylvania Reps. Dwight Evans (left) and Glenn "GT" Thompson co-host a listening session Wednesday at Penn State's Ag Progress Days.

'GT' Thompson says increased trade key to solving dairy crisis

Pennsylvania Republican sits on farm bill conference committee.

Rep. Glenn "GT" Thompson, R-Pa., said he is against any measure that would bailout dairy farmers and instead wants to focus on eliminating trade tariffs.

Speaking Wednesday at Penn State's Ag Progress Days, Thompson, a Republican whose district includes a wide swath of central and western Pennsylvania, said nutrition will be the biggest issue committee members will need to hash out before the current bill expires Sept. 30. This will be the second farm bill conference committee Thompson will sit on.

The House bill includes additional work requirements for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program recipients as well as money for employment and training. The Senate bill mostly builds on existing programs and includes money for workforce pilot programs.

Thompson says there are 6.7 million available jobs in the U.S. that could be filled through giving unemployed people additional skills training.

"We couldn't have done this in the last farm bill because we were in the middle of the Great Recession at that point," he says. "But this is a different time, and employers are struggling to find a qualified and trained workforce. So, what a great opportunity we have."

Thompson lauded additional funding in the House bill for The Emergency Food Assistance Program, or TEFAP, from $15 million to $60 million a year, including a new requirement for $20 million to be spent on buying excess fruits and vegetables from farms.

On dairy, Thompson says that provisions allowing low-fat flavored milk back in schools will help dairy farmers. He also supports cutting regulations and providing a year-round migrant workforce for dairy. But he is against any sort of bailout money for dairy farmers.  

There have been recent calls for reforming the nation's dairy system with Canadian-style supply management. Attendees of a dairy meeting on Monday in Albany, N.Y., which drew more than 300 people, floated around ideas such as adopting a Canadian-style system or shifting money from President Donald Trump's $12 billion ag bailout to help incentivize cuts in milk production.

Thompson says the key is opening new export markets.

"We need zero tariffs. That should be the goal," he says. "I don't believe it's a good idea to corrupt markets by dumping government money into markets, especially ag, since we've seen over the years what that does. It corrupts the market value of our commodities and makes us government dependent.

"I'm hoping this bailout, and that's what it is, won't be well-received by the American people and I think we can help out our farmers in other ways."

On immigration, Thompson says Congress must pass a bill separate from the farm bill that focuses on the ag workforce.

"I want a food security and ag workforce bill that focuses on the needs of farming employers," he said. "If we don't address this workforce issue, we will have food insecurity in this nation. This fall we will have crops that will sit and rot in the fields because the workforce is not available."

Thompson said he also supports the expansion of hemp and taking it off the Schedule 1 illicit drug list.

"I think this is a commodity that is beginning to see some opportunities. We ought to certainly unleash that," he says.

 Sen. Bob Casey, who also sits on the conference committee, lauded the bipartisan Senate farm bill and laid down his priorities for the upcoming conference committee at an earlier event at Ag Progress Days.

He said that he wants to secure permanent funding for the USDA's Organic Research Initiative, which would benefit Pennsylvania since it is one of the largest organic ag sectors in the nation.

He also supports changes to the Conservation Reserve Program that would ensure rental rates don't outcompete with farmers seeking access to land. It would also prioritize conservation practices to include water quality.

Casey also says that he supports a program that would incentivize the donation of farm products to food banks by reimbursing farmers for the cost to produce, harvest and transport products to food banks.

"The Senate farm bill is not perfect," he said. "I think we can continue to work together to improve this bill in the conference."

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