House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas knows how frustrating it is to arrive at the end of April not knowing what the farm program is going to be by the time wheat harvest arrives.
That’s because the Oklahoma Congressman is also a hard red winter wheat producer and he faces the same uncertainty that all of his neighbors do.
“I chafe at not knowing, just like everybody else does,” he told the North American Agricultural Journalists during a meeting in Washington, D.C. on Tuesday.
Lucas, who took some friendly ribbing from the ag journalists for being described as “affable” in a Tuesday Politico article, said he values what is sometimes called the “comedy” of the House Agriculture Committee.
“It is one of the last civil places in Washington,” he said. “It isn’t a partisan committee in either the House or the Senate. The dissention is far more likely to be drawn on the basis of different needs in different regions. It tends to be regional, not partisan. But is also tends to be friendly and cordial. And, yes, we even like comedy.”
Today, Lucas, along with the rest of his committee, will get an earful of what Kansas, Oklahoma, Texas and Colorado farmers think should be part of the 2012 Farm Bill when he conducts a field hearing in Dodge City.
There is no doubt that Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Fowler, who is hosting the field hearing, wants a great deal of emphasis on what he terms a climate of burdensome over-regulation. Huelskamp has introduced a bill that would prohibit the EPA from regulating farm dust and another that would eliminate the need for pesticide applicators to have dual state and federal permits.
Huelskamp said he expects farmers’ number one concern, based on 115 town hall meetings held in the last year, to be the survival of a program for affordable crop insurance. He said he also expects to hear farmers say they are willing to sacrifice for deficit reduction, but that they want sacrifice to be shared by the nutrition title, which gets about 85% of Farm Bill money.
A third concern he expects to hear is concern about regulations.
“I hear from farmers and ranchers all the time about their concerns for what the EPA is getting ready to do,” he said. “They say it’s a myth they are looking at regulating farm dust and then an hour later they start talking about regulating coarse particulate matter. Well that’s what farm dust is. It’s like they don’t even know what they’re talking about.”
If Lucas’s comments in Washington are any indication, his focus today is likely to be on crop insurance and on making sure that a safety net is maintained in a world without direct payments.
“I want folks to keep in mind that crop insurance has already taken a couple of hits,” he said. “Crop insurance was cut $6 billion in the last round. I think it is possible to make it more efficient, but you can’t gut the program and take away everything that would provide incentive to participate and expect it to work. I’d like to think that when we get to the end of this process, the Farm Bill will have at least some “farm” left in it.
Lucas also indicated that he is concerned about the inability of legislators to think long-term.
“There’s so much sentiment out there to do away with help for farmers based on the fact that prices are good right now,” he said. “But the bill has to reflect what might happen over the next three to five years. And those of us who have been in this for a while know that prices go up and prices come down. We have to have a safety net that works when the down time comes.”
The Farm Bill field hearing begins this morning at 9 a.m.
Speakers on the first panel are Gary Harshberger, corn, wheat, milo, soybean, and cow calf producer, Dodge City; Keith Miller, wheat, sorghum, corn, soybean, and cow calf producer, Great Bend; Dee Vaughan, corn, cotton, sorghum, soybean, and wheat producer, Dumas, Texas; Scott Neufeld, wheat, sorghum, canola, alfalfa, and cow calf producer, Fairview, Okla. and Terry Swanson, corn, wheat, sorghum, sunflower, and cow calf producer, Walsh, Colo.
The second panel will include Frank Harper, corn, soybean, wheat, sorghum, cow calf producer, Sedgwick; Kendall Hodgson, wheat, soybean, corn, sorghum, alfalfa, and cow calf producer, Little River; Tom Giessel, wheat, corn, sorghum, soybean, alfalfa, and cow calf producer, Larned; Woody Anderson, cotton and wheat producer, Colorado City, Texas and Zach Hunnicutt, corn, soybean, and popcorn producer, Aurora, Neb.