Farm Bill conference committee ready to make progress
By KURT SCHRADER
For the Capital Press
At long last, leaderships in both the House and Senate agreed to convene a conference with key members of Congress to reconcile differences between the House and Senate versions of the Farm Bill that will guide American agriculture policy for the next five years. As ranking member of the House Agriculture Committee’s Horticulture and Trade Subcommittee, which has jurisdiction of specialty crops and trade policy, I have been appointed to the conference to lend my voice to Oregon’s and our nation’s value laden specialty crop production.
The conference had our first meeting Oct. 30, and we hope to have a finished product before the end of the year. It is time for folks in Congress to illustrate that we can work together to get our economy back on track and include rural America in that recovery. The House and Senate’s respective Agriculture Committees have already shown that they, if left unimpeded, can bridge the partisan divide. Much is at stake for America’s farm and forested communities. If this group is not successful, leaderships in both chambers have made it clear that they will indiscriminately cut agriculture and nutrition programs without concern for the unique situation of our agriculture communities.
Members of the conference committee generally held their fire at our opening meeting, but laid out their interests and concerns. Crafting farm bills is always contentious, and this time is no exception. While the proposed draconian cuts to food stamps have received the most attention, critical differences remain in the dairy support and crop insurance programs that could pose significant threats to our success. Thankfully, our conservation programs do not seem to be an area of contention at this time and the pioneering work we have already done in modernizing national forest management has bipartisan support.
Personally, I do not understand how some can rail against “government involvement” in dairy support, when the existing dairy safety net is precisely that: a government program. The goal here is to keep our nation’s milk supply the safest in the world during tough economic times while limiting taxpayer exposure. House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson, myself and others have made this a “make-or-break” issue for our dairymen and women.
In regards to the crop insurance program, it looks as though the Midwest and Southern farm delegations are already trying to compromise on their different approaches. There is continued universal agreement that the antiquated direct payments program is no longer defensible and should be eliminated.
The specialty crop title my subcommittee worked on with Senate Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow also looks promising so far. Many of the provisions supported and promoted by Pacific Northwest producers are included as a result of our work. We continue to work closely with members of the conference committee to highlight the advantages to American agriculture with continued investment in research and development, specialty crop grants and market access programs in particular. The improvements in resources for these important programs are essential to Oregon and other Northwest producers and America’s ability to compete in the new global world economy.
Much of the work will be done offline over the coming weeks, as Congress is in and out of Washington. However, members will remain actively engaged on conference happenings. Our group and I personally, will continue our outreach to you as deliberations continue. Please stay tuned.
Rep. Kurt Schrader, D-Ore., is a member of the House Agriculture Committee.