An open letter to our Northwest delegation in the House of Representatives:
We were stunned this past summer when, for the first time in history, the House of Representatives defeated a five-year farm bill. Getting action has been an ugly and so far futile process, “a bit like being locked in a horror movie,” in the words of ranking House Agriculture Committee member Collin Peterson, D-Minn. Agriculture Committee Chair Frank Lucas, R.-Okla., has faced an onslaught of anger from special interest groups as he has sought compromise and a middle ground.
With House passage of separate farm and nutrition packages, on partisan lines, it is disheartening that Chairman Lucas fears an impending nutrition stalemate perhaps to be resolved only by seeking “instruction from on high.” He remembers past farm bills and the bipartisan spirit — “the coalition of the middle that cares about our food supply, cares about rural America” that passed bills before.
Here in the Pacific Northwest we have a proud history of leaders who have represented our region well, building consensus and getting things done. They’ve come from both sides of the aisle — Tom Foley and Dan Evans come to mind, as do many others. Thousands of farm families, thousands more who help produce, transport and market the bountiful crops we grow, people with agricultural ties in every one of the 17 districts you represent — all of us need you to again show Northwest leadership in getting a farm bill passed and getting it passed NOW. Chairman Lucas is right: “It shouldn’t be this hard to pass a farm bill that makes sure we have food.”
A bipartisan bill — surely that is what we must have, for all else will fail — will be a food bill: ensuring bountiful harvests upon which our nation and the world depend and also helping those who struggle with hunger in our own backyard. It will be a trade bill — and no part of the country is more trade-oriented than are we. And a research bill — our three land grant schools are hanging in the balance while Congress squabbles. A conservation bill. An energy bill. And a jobs bill — millions of them are at stake, including many here in the Northwest.
Families across the Northwest have been waiting for an agriculture and nutrition bill for well over a year now — not a duct-taped, patched-together extension like last winter but a real, honest, bipartisan five-year piece of legislation built by legislators, rural and urban, working together. We urge you to put aside party, campaigns and agendas of activist groups. Get a farm bill for us, your constituents, and for our nation.
We as agriculture will do what we do well — producing extraordinary crops to feed our nation and the world. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack has called today’s farmers the “greatest generation” for their achievements. Tom’s comments hold true here in the Northwest where, during the 58-year lifetime of the “average” aged farmer, we’ve nearly trebled yields, reduced water-borne soil erosion 85 percent, dust six fold — the biggest gains in productivity and stewardship of any generation in history. We’ll do our part. Please do yours.
We’ve come to you and your counterparts in the Senate asking for fewer dollars. Federal spending for agriculture has been declining for years. We’ve not asked you to continue direct payments of the past nor have we come to you with ad hoc disaster requests when we face calamities beyond our control — as we once had no choice but to do.
Farm families will need your help preserving crop insurance, a remarkable public-private partnership, which has helped them endure the perils of volatile weather and fickle world markets. As Speaker Boehner has stated, crop insurance has been the tool Congress has wanted farmers to use to manage risks. It’s insurance, not a handout as cynics who don’t know any better or don’t care have claimed — in 2012, when the Midwest suffered an historic drought, growers paid over S4 billion in premiums and had to endure nearly S13 billion in losses to meet deductibles before any disaster assistance kicked in. The program worked — farmers stayed in business, lenders were repaid, communities saved jobs. Your agriculture committee had painstakingly constructed the framework for a fiscally responsible farm and nutrition bill before supercharged partisan winds, from left and right, led to its defeat.
As Agriculture Chair Lucas has stated: “No other committee in Congress is voluntarily cutting money, in a bipartisan way, from its jurisdiction to reduce the size and scope of the federal government.” As the weeks and months have gone by with no action in the House, groups of all sorts have been filling the vacuum with strident and irrational claims — of greedy farmers hoping for disasters or welfare moms living the good life. Enough already! Economist Barry Flinchbaugh has said of congressional ditherìng about passing the farm bill: “It’s not a lack of capability. It’s a lack of guts.”
The stakes are too high for this to continue. Senate Ag Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., puts it well: “It’s time to stop kicking the can down the road and leaving rural America and 16 million jobs hanging in uncertainty.” We hear from families who grow crops, and those of us who rely upon them in Northwest towns, large and small, a theme that resonates: “Why can’t Congress pass a farm bill?” From growers, again stuck with uncertainty as the one-year farm bill patch nears its expiration: “I’ve got crops to seed, a banker and local businesses who expect me to pay my bills, equipment to fix or replace and it looks like I’ll be left hanging, once more, by Congress.”
We’ve done our part as agriculture: producing safe and bountiful crops at a low cost for consumers here at home and around the globe. You do yours: show that, as so often in the past, Northwest legislators have the strength of character to lead the way winning passage of a bipartisan farm bill providing food, farm and job security for our nation. We’ll do our part. We are counting upon you to do yours. Please grab the reins and lead the way! We need a farm bill and we need one now.
Alex McGregor is president of The McGregor Company and managing partner of McGregor Land and Livestock, a grain and livestock ranch with roots dating back to pioneer days.