While Congress is making progress on a new five-year farm bill, U.S. Rep. Greg Walden, R-Ore., said a few key issues remain unresolved.
Specifically, a proposed new insurance program for dairy producers and budget cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program are left to negotiate. But Walden assured a group of Umatilla County wheat growers Thursday in Pendleton that their crop insurance is protected, and the safety net will be there for American farmers.
Walden kept much of his focus on agricultural concerns as guest speaker at the Oregon Wheat Growers League fall county workshop, though the discussion changed course at times to the recent federal government shutdown and controversial rollout of the Affordable Care Act. All over the district, Walden said he hears stories about families facing cancellation of their health care policies or renewal at higher rates.
“Clearly, the health care law is of concern,” Walden said. “Premiums are going up dramatically for some. Worse is the co-pay.”
One grower questioned why Walden voted against legislation to end the government shutdown a month ago. The congressman agreed the shutdown should not have happened, but leaders in Washington, D.C. needed to figure out a long-term solution, he said, instead of kicking the can down the road for another 90 days.
The White House rejected everything Republicans put on the table to meet halfway on debt and spending, Walden said. Ultimately, they would accept only a clean debt ceiling increase, and now face the same situation heading into Jan. 15.
“I don’t think the shutdown was a good idea, either, and it was never our intention to wind up there,” Walden said. “It’s really frustrating.”
On the farm bill, Walden said the House aims for reform in the food stamp program that has doubled in size and quadrupled in cost. Driving between Ontario and Baker City, Walden said he swapped calls with Rep. Frank Lucas, R-Okla., chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, and they are committed to getting the bill done.
“I’ll do my part to try and get this farm bill done the right way,” Walden said.
Blake Rowe, CEO of the Oregon Wheat Growers League, also briefly discussed the farm bill during a workshop presentation. Other topics ranged from financial overview to research by Oregon State University, and a recap of the year’s startling discovery of genetically modified “Roundup Ready” wheat growing in a fallow Eastern Oregon field.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service is still investigating how and why the incident occurred. There is no timetable for when results will be announced. What is certain, Rowe said, is the exemplary way growers worked to reassure overseas trade partners that temporarily backed off new imports.
“It was a very positive message,” Rowe said. “Nobody can question we put our customers’ interests first.”
Genetically modified wheat remains a possibility. The product will eventually come into the market, Rowe said, and now is the time for growers to start thinking about what they can and cannot do.
As for the farm bill, Rowe said they are working closely with national organizations and their congressional delegation to protect priority programs including crop insurance, conservation, research and export promotion. The most important thing, however, is that it get passed.
“We understand we won’t win on all the issues,” Rowe said. “That’s why they call it a negotiation.”