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Wisconsin has Congressmen on both sides in farm bill debate

Feb. 5, 2014 | 0 comments


As members of Congress took the final steps to getting a farm bill done, there was considerable "mission fatigue," said one Wisconsin representative.

Ron Kind, a Democrat representing a large swath of western Wisconsin, said that many of his colleagues in the House were "just anxious to get it done. There is considerable fatigue over the whole process."

Kind, who held a press call with reporters as the bill reached the floor last week, said he was voting against the measure because it didn't take the opportunity to make the kind of substantial reforms to various farm programs that he has advocated for years.

"This Congress pulled up way short" in terms of reforms it could have made, he told reporters. "This was a missed opportunity."

The bill's commodity title established historically high commodity prices in the commodity title and removes provisions that would limit how much money people could stand to get from government programs, he said.

Both the House and Senate versions of the farm bill had included provisions to limit how much any individual farmer could receive from government programs, but in the compromise measure worked out by conferees, all that was removed.

The farm policy bills passed in both Houses of Congress had also included provisions to limit how many people per farming operation could receive benefits from government programs, but that was also removed.

Despite bipartisan support in both the House and Senate to limit crop insurance subsidies for producers making more than $750,000 per year, this measure was removed.

Asked about the removal of those limits in the final bill, Kind told Wisconsin State Farmer that the conference committee really only met once – when the members gave their opening statements. The real work was done behind closed doors and he doesn't know why the payment limits were removed.

"It was frustrating. I tried to get into those meetings. Everything was done behind closed doors. The scales have been tilted and the voices of the typical family farmer are not heard."

Kind also said he opposed the provision that virtually guarantees crop insurance companies a 14 percent profit. "There's not a business in the world that wouldn't take that kind of deal."

The Congressman was also angry that the farm bill failed to work out problems with the federal cotton program that ends up requiring U.S. taxpayers to send $150 million to Brazil each year as part of a world trade decision.

There were some achievements in consolidating programs and saving on some program costs, he said, but Kind objected to the cutting of $7 billion from federal conservation programs and an additional $8.6 billion from the nutrition title. "I thought there were other areas where we should cut instead."

"There were unnecessary cuts to SNAP while multi-billionaires who are not farmers will continue to get payments."

Kind, the chairman of the organic caucus, said he was pleased with the organic provisions in the final bill.

The bill continues important organic research, certification, and data collection and includes important technology upgrades for the National Organic Program, which administers the organic seal

On the dairy title, Kind said he was still looking at the details. "Only time will tell if the dairy program will work."

Bill supporter

Rep. Reid Ribble, a Republican from eastern Wisconsin, supported the bill.

Under the dairy title, he supported the voluntary margin insurance program that will help farmers manage risk. Ribble said he believes the program will work well for Wisconsin dairy farmers of all sizes.

The bill also includes critical reforms to forest policy, new opportunities for fruit and vegetable producers and processors, and ongoing support for critical agricultural research, he said.

In the often-overlooked area of forestry in this measure, Ribble backed several measures that will benefit the state's forestry and paper sectors and garnered praise from forestry leaders.

He supported a provision to clarify that forest roads can continue to be managed successfully at the state level and another provision to permit the Forest Service to hire retired employees to assist with forest management and timber harvesting work.

Ribble pushed for a USDA definition of "biobased product" that includes forest products, removing a competitive disadvantage for Wisconsin's paper industry.

Mark Huempfner, with the Great Lakes Timber Professionals Association said the farm bill contains many provisions to "improve and clarify forestry activities such as Forest Roads silviculture issue."

He commended Congressman Ribble for his leadership on those issues.

Ribble supported the dairy title that replaced what he called "outdated dairy programs" with a gross margin insurance program that will help dairy farmers to manage their risk during difficult times.

The program is structured to work effectively for dairy producers of all sizes, and will help Wisconsin farmers as they transition from the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC) program, he said.

While Congress haggled over the farm bill, he worked successfully to continue the MILC program until the new system is up and running and also ensured that the bill did not include any provisions that would put Wisconsin farmers at an unfair disadvantage relative to other regions of the country.

Ribble's work helped to get a new one-year $5 million pilot program included as part of the U.S. Department of Agriculture's Fresh Fruit and Vegetable program.

The pilot program will enable elementary schools in five states to test the idea of serving canned, dried and frozen fruits and vegetables as snacks for school children on free and reduced-cost school lunches for the next school year.

The food-processing industry is important to Wisconsin and members of that community thanked Ribble for his work to get that provision included.

The 2014 Farm Bill includes Ribble's legislation (H.R. 1610) to incentivize and expand fruit and vegetable production for processing in Wisconsin and throughout the Midwest.

The Farm Bill reauthorizes the Specialty Crop Research Initiative and the Specialty Crop Block Grant program, which are important tools for Wisconsin cherry, potato and cranberry growers, and was a provision Ribble supported.

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