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Dozens turn out for a House Ag Committee hearing in Binghamton.

Chris Torres, Editor, American Agriculturist

April 25, 2023

6 Min Read
More than 30 people took the mic in Binghamton, N.Y., for a farm bill listening session
PACKED HOUSE: More than 30 people took the mic in Binghamton, N.Y., for a farm bill listening session. Rep. Marc Molinaro, R-N.Y., talked about the farm bill process during the listening session.Chris Torres

For the second time this year, Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson, R-Pa., chairman of the House Ag Committee, brought an official farm bill listening session to the Northeast.

This time, Binghamton, N.Y., was the stop where dozens of farmers and ag leaders talked issues that they wanted to see addressed in the next five-year farm bill. The comprehensive package authorizes federal spending on crop insurance, commodity and conservation programs, nutrition (mainly the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP), trade and more.

The 2018 Farm Bill (officially known as the Agriculture Improvement Act of 2018) expires Sept. 30, and with time continuing to tick away and with a divided Congress and White House, there is concern that with each passing day, the chances of an on-time farm bill grow slimmer.

The listening session in Binghamton was the fourth one held this year. Others have been held in Pennsylvania — the first one this year at Pennsylvania Farm Show — Tulare, Calif.; Waco, Texas; and at the University of Florida.

Here’s a YouTube video of the hearing, and below are some highlights:

More than 30 people took the mic at the Cornell Cooperative Extension Broome County Agriculture Development Center.

Judi Whittaker of Whittaker Farms LLC in Whitney Point said the Environmental Quality Incentives Program has helped her dairy farm grow crops in a more environmentally feasible way as the soils on her farm are marginal, at best, with many steep hillsides. The farm has installed streamline fencing to keep cows out of the water and used cover crops and other best management practices to ensure nutrients stay on the land.

In 2022, 387 EQIP contracts worth $14.5 million were committed to in the state, Whittaker said. For this year, 655 applications have so far been filed and an estimated $15.7 million will be available for projects.

She said that continued funding of conservation programs such as EQIP will have a big impact in the state because of the number of major watersheds that have headlands here — like the Chesapeake Bay watershed.

"Continued funding of EQIP funding is essential" in the next farm bill, she said.

Eric Ooms, who runs a dairy farm in Kinderhook, said changes to the Dairy Margin Coverage program, which was authorized in the 2018 Farm Bill, need to be made, including increasing the number of pounds covered and the maximum margin a producer can buy up to — which is currently at $9.50 per cwt.

The program pays producers the difference (the margin) between the national price of milk and the average cost of feed when the margin falls below a certain level selected.

He also argued for returning to the “higher of” calculation for the Class I price mover in Federal Milk Marketing Orders. “And frankly if it needs to be done legislatively, sooner rather than later would be best,” he said.

While he thinks that bloc voting — when a cooperative votes for its members as a bloc in federal dairy hearings — is important, he said individual farmers deserve a voice, too.

“If there needs to be changes, I think it’s possible to do a modified bloc where the co-op would vote but alert their members, this is how we voted, you can vote differently and give us the tools to do that,” he said. “It empowers the farmer, but it also allows for the system to actually work.”

Jan Nyrop, associate dean of Cornell’s College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, said federal ag research funding is not keeping up with what other countries are spending. In inflation-adjusted 2019 dollars, the amount spent from public sources on ag research was equal to the amount spent in 1970, he said. China and the European Union have passed the U.S. in federal ag research funding, and China now spends twice as much as the U.S., he said.

And while private ag research funding has increased — surpassing public ag research funding — Nyrop said it is primarily driven by short-term needs, profits, and does not address bigger challenges agriculture is facing.

He called on increasing ag research funding in the farm bill from 2% to 4%.

“In my view we don’t invest enough in new knowledge,” Nyrop said. “It’s because we don’t suffer enough pain. Now, I’m not talking about physical pain, I’m talking about the things that motivate people to act. And those are challenges that are personal, abrupt, immoral, and happen in the here and now. Unfortunately, the need for agricultural research doesn’t meet all those criteria. There is an antidote to that … and that’s leadership. Leadership can make a difference in terms of addressing these things.”

Matt Hollenbeck, who owns a cider mill owner just outside Ithaca and is a national land fellow for the National Young Farmers Coalition, said land access continues to be a big issue for young and beginning farmers, and he called on lawmakers to address this in the farm bill.

In his case, he got his land through what he described as a difficult succession process. After receiving every loan and grant available to him, he was still $50,000 short of the money needed to buy his land.

He got the remaining money through his “large and generous social network,” but “that is not an option for everyone. And it should not be a requirement for people who are called to farm to have those resources,” he said. “We need to make sure we provide easy credit for young and beginning farmers not only for them to acquire the land, but you are funding the retirement of our retiring farmers. Their retirement fund is their sweat equity in their land.”

Brad Vickers, president of Chenango County Farm Bureau, said it is crucial to keep farm and nutrition titles together in the farm bill. “If you separate them, we will both lose. So, it’s that important,” Vickers said.

He urged lawmakers to make the SNAP program easier for producers to get involved with so they can allow customers to use SNAP benefits on the farm or at the farm market. “For some producers, it is too costly to get involved. And some farmers say they lose money on it,” he said.

But his most pointed comments came on the issue of rural cellphone service. He pleaded with lawmakers to make rural cellphone service more available and reliable.

“For me to call my assemblyman … I have to jump in the car and drive down the road to make that call. And if my wife needed heart assistance, I would have to jump in the car and run down the road to call 911,” he said. “We’re the most technological country in the world, and we can’t provide rural cell service to New York. That’s disgusting.”

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Farm Bill

About the Author(s)

Chris Torres

Editor, American Agriculturist

Chris Torres, editor of American Agriculturist, previously worked at Lancaster Farming, where he started in 2006 as a staff writer and later became regional editor. Torres is a seven-time winner of the Keystone Press Awards, handed out by the Pennsylvania Press Association, and he is a Pennsylvania State University graduate.

Torres says he wants American Agriculturist to be farmers' "go-to product, continuing the legacy and high standard (former American Agriculturist editor) John Vogel has set." Torres succeeds Vogel, who retired after 47 years with Farm Progress and its related publications.

"The news business is a challenging job," Torres says. "It makes you think outside your small box, and you have to formulate what the reader wants to see from the overall product. It's rewarding to see a nice product in the end."

Torres' family is based in Lebanon County, Pa. His wife grew up on a small farm in Berks County, Pa., where they raised corn, soybeans, feeder cattle and more. Torres and his wife are parents to three young boys.

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