House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R-Texas) and Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R-Kansas) agreed during a Kansas State Fair forum last weekend that now is a bad time to consider reopening the current farm bill for possible amendments designed to bring relief to growers plagued by low prices and escalating input costs.
"We’re going to be very resistant to that,” Conaway said. “[but] Pat and I are not insensitive to how hard times are right now."
A large number of farmers attended the moderated forum as the agricultural lawmakers, in a rare joint appearance, fielded questions previously gathered from area producers and carefully selected for presentation by a local radio network.
Roberts added that farmers would stand to lose more than they gained if the farm bill were reopened in today's politically-charged climate. He recalled the protracted fight in the House to get the farm bill passed two years ago, and said if it revisited now, it could be a negative instead of a positive help for producers.
Allen Featherstone, head of the Department of Agricultural Economics at Kansas State University, joined Roberts and Conaway on the stage to answer questions from Kelly Lenz, farm director for WIBW Radio, owner of the Kansas Agriculture Network.
In response to other questions posed by local farmers, the two chairmen talked about subsidies and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. They agreed producers need a financial safety net. Conaway said that consumers do not realize what a good deal they are getting when they buy food at the supermarket.
"It’s working," Conway added. "What I care about are the folks at the bottom. My focus is going to be what do subsidies do to the cost of food?"
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TPP GOOD FOR AGRICULTURE
A point of contention in the presidential race is the topic of the Trans-Pacific Partnership. Both Conaway and Roberts serve on Donald Trump's agriculture advisory committee, and Trump has gone on record as being opposed to the TPP. But Roberts said "this particular agreement is good for agriculture.”
"Agriculture did a terrific job at staying at the table when the agreement was written," Conway added. Both agreed there is little chance of the issue passing in the near future, saying strong leadership from the White House would be needed in order to pass the bill through Congress and into law.
All three of the guests, Conaway, Roberts and Featherstone, talked about growth in the industry and the need for additional food production to meet the needs of a growing global population. Featherstone said population growth will occur mainly in Asia and Africa over the next 20 years, and suggested that those countries would depend on U.S. and South America for their commodities. He said there was little question that trade will become more important to the American farmer in the years ahead.
On the issue of Waters of the United States and other issues involving the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Roberts suggested a rocky road ahead for lawmakers and the agricultural industry-at-large.
"Dealing with the EPA is pretty tough business," Roberts said. “These people are out of control."
"These people think they know better than we do, and they don’t," Conaway added. He said Washington needed to cut EPA funding in order to control them in the future.