The Senate passed a bipartisan Farm Bill, with a vote of 86 to 11 that provides access to food for those in need, assistance to producers implementing conservation practices and a limited safety net for our producers when they experience weather disasters and/or extremely low commodity prices. The bipartisan Senate Farm Bill is not perfect but it is far superior to the partisan House Farm Bill that barely passed with a vote of 213 to 211. The two bills have gone to a conference committee that will come up with a final version of the bill for the Senate and House to vote on.
Passage in the Senate requires 60 votes, which can only be accomplished if the conference committee largely accepts the Senate version and rejects the House version. The House decided to play party politics and ignored the fact that farmers and ranchers make up less than two percent of our population, which require a coalition of consumers and conservation minded groups to pass a farm bill.
Instead of reaching out to consumers and building a coalition with congressmen from urban districts, the House Farm Bill does just the opposite. The bill would result in a million low-income households losing or receiving reduced food assistance under the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP). This is accompanied with dramatic increases in bureaucracy to implement additional work guidelines that will take years to fully implement. Even if you agree with the additional SNAP requirements in the House bill, common sense tells us that it defeats our greater purpose of building a coalition to pass a new farm bill.
Authors of the House Farm Bill were not content with alienating congressmen from urban districts; they also decided to antagonize conservation minded individuals by cutting conservation programs by $800 million and eliminating the Conservation Stewardship Program. Individuals that believe America should increase sustainability of our soil and food production had no incentive to join any coalition supporting the partisan House Farm Bill.
Producers are receiving less than half of the net farm income they received in 2013. We are losing family producers due to low commodity prices in recent years, especially young producers who haven’t built up sufficient equity. We need a safety net that provides adequate risk management for our family farmers and ranchers when weather disasters and/or low commodity prices do not cover cost of production. An adequate safety net is critical for our producers to stay in business, for consumer access to nutritious food at reasonable prices now and in the future, and for the economic health of rural communities and the nation.
Rep. Greg Gianforte made no effort to encourage the House to change their proposed farm bill in a manner that builds coalition support and has a chance of becoming law. Our representative effectively chose party politics over the needs of Montanans. Kathleen Williams would have worked to build a coalition in the House like Jon Tester did with the bipartisan Farm Bill in the Senate. It is time for Montana to elect a new hired hand that will fight for us in the House of Representatives.
Ron de Yong is the former director of the Montana Department of Agriculture.