Herald Journal

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Smith discusses Farm Bill with Minnesota Farm Bureau President Dan Glessing



Photo by Austen Neaton
Senator Tina Smith and Minnesota Farm Bureau President Dan Glessing discuss the US Senate’s proposed farm bill during a visit at Glessing’s family farm near Waverly May 30. The bill includes provisions for agriculture, nutrition programs, and rural development.

As part of Minnesota Democratic Senator Tina Smith’s recent tour through the area, she also stopped in at Minnesota Farm Bureau (MFB) President Dan Glessing’s Waverly farm to discuss the farm bill currently being discussed in Washington, DC.
During the visit, Smith and Glessing discussed aspects of the Senate’s proposed farm bill, such as crop insurance and risk management, conservation, rural development, and the fact that a farm bill may not be passed this year.
Smith has worked extensively on the Senate’s farm bill, titled the Rural Prosperity and Food Security Act (RPFSA), as she is a member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. Michigan Senator and U.S. Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow head the Senate bill.
A new farm bill must be reauthorized every five years. The current one was passed in 2018 and was set to expire last year; however, President Joe Biden signed off on an extension through September of this year.
Both the House and the Senate have each formed a version of the new bill, and there must be agreement from both chambers when signing the final bill into law.
The current farm bill has 12 chapters, or titles, that govern aspects of agriculture, food security, and rural development.
Smith explained that the bill has three main pillars that have been the backbone behind the bipartisan support it has traditionally received.
“It’s got the farm programs, it’s got rural development which is really important, and then it’s got the nutrition programs, and those things have to all hold together,” she said. “I think Dan would agree with me in saying that the farm bill is one of the last bastions of bipartisanship in Congress; it’s a place where you can reliably know that Democrats and Republicans are going to come together – that’s how the Farm Bill always passes.”
Bipartisan support has been more difficult to find for the currently proposed farm bills because the Republican-controlled House and the Democratic-controlled Senate differ in their views on certain topics, such as nutrition and funding for large industrial farms.
However, Smith said that the two bills still have many similarities.
“My view of it is we should try to keep our horizon a little higher and we should be acknowledging that there is actually a fair amount of overlap between the House farm bill and the Senate bill,” she said. “They have some partisan stuff in there that we know is not going to get bipartisan support, and it has to be bipartisan, but I think we should be focusing on where we agree.”

Risk management

Glessing said that one of the biggest aspects of the farm bill for those working in the agricultural industry is risk management.
Smith agreed and said that the topic was important to her.
“I know from talking to Minnesota farmers, ranchers, and producers that the most important thing for them is to know that we’ve got a strong risk management program with crop insurance, the Dairy Margin Coverage Program (DMCP), and the other things that we do to support risk management,” she said. 
The Senate’s farm bill would improve these things to ensure that they continue to work for small—to medium-sized farms. 
It would extend the DMCP and increase the quantity of milk eligible for tier-one coverage by 20%, from 5 million pounds to 6 million pounds. 
Regarding crop insurance, the Senate’s bill would make enhancements to the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) to provide better protection for farmers who do not have access to crop insurance and help facilitate the transition of producers into the crop insurance program. 
“I have been quite focused on seeing where we can make some improvements on the margins so that some of those crop insurance programs are really working for young farmers getting into the field, no pun intended,” Smith said. “The average age of a farmer in Minnesota is around 58 to 60 so we are on the verge of a big transition and as that transition happens I want to keep those farms family farms, and so that means that that risk management tool has to work for them.”

Conservation

Glessing and Smith also discussed the farm bill’s improvements on conservation programs such as the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP), the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP).
These programs reward farmers for using sustainable practices and creating natural habitats on their land. The farm bill would make many of these programs permanent staples.
Smith said that these programs not only help conservation efforts but also the pockets of farmers.
“When they are working correctly, the conservation programs – for working lands in particular – should really be another way for farmers to be able to improve the way that their bottom lines work, and there are a lot of conservation practices that are good for soil health and that create a pathway for farmers to generate another source of circumstance, which can be a good thing for enhancing folks’ bottom lines,” she said.
“National statistics tell us that most small and medium-sized farms in this country are not even breaking even, and I have nothing against the big guys, but we have to have a system where small and medium-sized farmers have the chance to support themselves and their families,” Smith continued. “I think conservation programs can be one of the tools for doing that.”
She also said that these programs have been oversubscribed and that putting more money into them creates opportunities for more farmers to take advantage of them. 
Glessing agreed that conservation programs are a great resource. However, it is important to the MFB that they remain voluntary.
“We are really focused on ensuring that conservation practices are voluntary and incentive-based because you assume a lot of risk as a farmer trying something new when it’s not been tried in the area and you don’t have any knowledge or data to go off of,” he said.
Glessing also said that it’s important to ensure that CRP rates do not inflate the price of land to the point where young farmers cannot purchase it.

Rural development

Photo by Austen Neaton
Smith and Glessing share their priorities for the farm bill, which may not receive enough bipartisan support to get signed into law this year.

While rural development is a key pillar in any farm bill, Smith said it is an aspect often overlooked by many.
“Not everybody is a student of the farm bill, and many don’t understand that this big piece of law touches nearly every aspect of life in America – especially in rural communities – so it’s important to get it right and to make sure that all of those tax dollars are working as hard as they can for local communities,” she said. “Rural development is a really big deal; that’s rural broadband, rural housing, and grants for facilities such as libraries.”
Childcare centers are among the wide array of facilities included in rural development, and Smith has made them a priority.
“One of the things that I have been hearing a lot about is the great need for childcare in small towns and rural places; there is a real shortage, and one of the proposals in this bill that I have worked on is a provision that would make it easier to give grant funding to help small child care operations in small towns get off the ground, so I am excited about that,” she said.
Glessing agreed that provisions for rural development are as important as those for agriculture.
“After each annual meeting, the Minnesota Farm Bureau Board discusses what each board member has heard from their members, and over the last several years we have heard about the need for rural vitality, child care, workforce development, housing – all of those types of things where you wouldn’t think that we would be in that space, but we are because we do need good communities,” Glessing said.

Common names

While not quite related to the previous topics, Smith is also advocating for American dairy farmers to be able to use common names on their products.
“I have been pushing provisions that would make it easier for American dairy products to market under common names – we call it parmesan, or asiago, or mozzarella, just as examples,” Smith said. “Those are regional names in other countries, but they denote a kind of cheese in America and we ought to be able to use those names, so there is a law that I have worked on that would put that into law.”

Maybe next year

Smith said that while the desire to pass an updated farm bill is present on Capitol Hill, differences in the Senate and House bills could prevent one from being signed into law this year, even though both have many similarities.
If a new bill is not passed, the current one would need to receive another extension.
A big reason for the two chambers’ current disagreement is that the House wants to cut funding for nutrition programs and give more to large farming operations, while the Senate wants to do the opposite.
“The House has a lot of overlap between their proposals and the Senate’s, but they kind of chip away at one of those pillars which is the nutrition program in ways that just won’t get bipartisan support,” Smith said.
Many experts have said that they believe a new farm bill will not be passed this year, and Smith said that a delay would only hurt farmers.
“I think that there is a belief amongst some that if there is a big power change in Washington, DC next year they will be able to get a better deal, but I think that’s kind of backward thinking because it undermines the bipartisanship that has always worked to pass a bill,” she said. “Most farmers and producers that I talk to just want to get it done; they want to have certainty, they want to know there will be improvements that they want to see made, and so delaying is not that great of an option for them.”
Smith also said that the talks of a delay are shortsighted because if there is a power shift, the progress made this year will have to be repeated next year.
“It’s still going to take months and months and months, and you’re still going to have to pass a bipartisan bill, at least in the Senate,” she said.
Glessing agreed.
“It’s still going to be bipartisan anyways by the nature of what the Senate does, so I would like to see a Senate bill counteroffer to the House this year and get some tangible results in the end,” Glessing said.
Even with the talks of a delay, Smith still has hope that a bipartisan agreement can be reached.
“I pay attention to what people do and not what people say, and I think there is a lot of interest in getting it done, so I am going to keep pushing to move it and I know that Senator Klobuchar will as well, and that’s very much what Senator Stabenow wants to do,” she said. “There have been lots of good conversations between the Senate and the House Agriculture Committees across party lines so I am hoping that will bear fruit.”
Glessing said that he felt similarly.
“I think that those conversations are key and that it’s important to keep those lines of communication open because there are a lot of good things that are kind of queued up and ready to go,” he said.