Agriculture organizations across the country are already turning their attention to the development of the 2018 farm bill. The American Farm Bureau Federation is putting together some early policy ideas in anticipation of testimony before the House and Senate Ag Committees as early as next spring. Chad Smith has more.

Smith: Mary Kay Thatcher, senior director of congressional relations with AFBF, said some changes need to be made in the 2018 farm bill compared to the 2014 bill.  

Thatcher: Well, certainly we’ve heard from our cotton producers and our dairy folks, that they don’t think the new programs that were put into effect are working for them.  Fairly low participation in both programs and most folks feeling again like they just don’t provide an adequate safety net.                

Smith: The biggest challenge in writing a new farm bill is not enough money. 

Thatcher: I think one of the biggest issues we’re going to face in the next farm bill is we’re going to have less money to write the farm bill than we had when we wrote the 2014, and obviously, prices are going to be much lower than they were then.  So, you know, when it’s really a tough time and we need additional dollars, we’re going to have to find a way to do it with fewer instead of more.      

Smith: The farm safety net in the next farm bill will be a hot topic of discussion.  

Thatcher: We already know that there’s financial struggles in the country, prices are not good for most commodities, and even for the few that are, they’ve been in the tank mostly for the last year or so.  We know that farm bills are always harder to write when you’re facing difficult times. We know that crop insurance will continue to be in the bullseye, primarily because it costs more than does a commodity program or the conservation program, but we’re going to have to work diligently to bring the conservation groups, the nutrition groups, and the farm groups together to hold a very strong farm bill.                       

Smith: She said there will be a push by some in Washington to split the nutrition title away from the farm bill, and the Farm Bureau says that simply can’t happen.

Thatcher: About 79 percent of the cost of the farm bill is the nutrition programs, but we know that especially in the House of Representatives that it’s largely urban, that if we split nutrition and farm programs apart, we simply don’t have the votes to pass an adequate farm bill with a good safety net. So, we need to have our members carry the message right now to their members of Congress, both House and Senate, we do not want to split.   

Smith: And she said farmers need to let their senators and representatives know that times are tough in the agricultural economy.

Thatcher: We are having difficulties and farm programs are based on let’s provide assistance when prices and yields and revenues are low, and now is the perfect time to see that that’s indeed the confluence of events that are happening and we have to protect farmers with an adequate safety net.      

Smith: Chad Smith, Washington.