Senate continues to gather input for 2023 farm bill

The top two members of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry conducted a hearing for the upcoming 2023 farm bill on June 17 in Jonesboro, Arkansas, the home state of Ranking Member John Boozman, a Republican, who noted the need for flexibility for High Plains producers. Boozman was accompanied by Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-MI.

American Soybean Association President Brad Doyle of Weiner, Arkansas, testified on the soy industry’s behalf.

In written testimony, Doyle emphasized the need for increased budget resources to write the next farm bill, commenting, “Soybean growers have legitimate needs for improving farm safety net programs for our crop. Meaningful conservation programs have greater farmer demands than resources that are available. As we work to diversify markets globally, trade promotion programs need greater investment. The same is true with energy, rural development, research and other programs. And we want to preserve, protect, and perhaps even enhance programs like crop insurance that are so important. We also want to maintain both agricultural and nutrition titles in the next farm bill.”

During his oral testimony, Doyle shared several key objectives important to producers of soybeans, the crop with the highest acreage and highest value of production for Arkansas in 2021, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Agricultural Statistics Service. Those objectives include:

• Improving the farm safety net for soybeans, such as increasing the soybean reference price for calculating agriculture risk coverage and price loss coverage and providing the option to update base acres;

• Protecting crop insurance, which is the most effective risk management tool that soybean farmers have and lenders value;

• Enhancing accessibility of conservation programs and maintaining the voluntary, incentive-based approach that farmers appreciate;

• Growing investments in the promotion of U.S. commodities globally, including Market Access Programs and Foreign Market Development, as the industry continuously seek new markets; and

• Building opportunities for biofuels and biobased products, both of which hold great market potential for our versatile crop.

As in the written testimony, Doyle noted, “Improving, protecting, enhancing, growing, and building all require additional resources. As you prepare to write the next farm bill, we respectfully request that you seek additional funding resources from the budget committee to enable these and the priorities of others to be possible.”

The hearing also included two panels consisting of agricultural producers, industry stakeholders and rural community supporters from Arkansas. They were preceded by a welcome panel consisting of Mickey Latour, dean of the College of Agriculture at Arkansas State University, and Rich Hillman, president of Arkansas Farm Bureau.

“Our field hearings are a great opportunity to hear firsthand from the people who use farm bill programs most about ways we can strengthen this important legislation, grow the rural economy, and meet the challenges facing our country,” Stabenow said.

Boozman and Stabenow have each hosted hearings in their respective states. Earlier Stabenow had a hearing in East Lansing on the campus of Michigan State University.

Much at stake, Boozman says

The June 17 hearing focused on Arkansas and the importance of the farm bill to his state. While the farm bill always focuses on commodities, safety nets and managing risk, Boozman said the farm bill is also about rural communities and families; it is about wildlife habitat and conserving natural resources; it is about supporting research at universities; it is about helping those in need as he offered remarks in advance of testimony by farmers and others.

“Everyone in this room recognizes that we are in an unprecedented time,” Boozman said in prepared remarks. “The pandemic, the war in Europe, historic and widespread inflation, and now serious concerns about a recession—it just feels different.

“As we consider the next farm bill, we must ask if the policies and programs currently in place are the policies and programs that we need for the world we find ourselves in?

“Are we empowering, encouraging and incentivizing our farmers to be more productive and more efficient? To be more resilient?

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“Are we making the right investments in our rural infrastructure to keep the economic benefit of those productivity and efficiency gains in our rural communities?

“Are our investments in agricultural research focused on answering the right questions?

“Is there a role for the farm bill to help address weak points in our supply chains and labor markets?”

Boozman said the 2023 bill is an opportunity to put in place the tools necessary to strengthen American agriculture for any situation it may face in the future. If that occurs farmers will continue to do what they have always done: provide the most abundant, lowest cost and safest food supply in the world.

At the hearing, 11 Arkansans presented information, he said. These sectors underpin the economies of rural communities and are a major component of Arkansas’s economy. The state has 42,000 family farmers and ranchers operating on 14 million acres, with gross receipts from the sales of crops and livestock equal to $9.7 billion.

The economic output of food and agriculture in the state is $92 billion, which supports nearly 500,000 jobs and $23 billion in wages.

Arkansas is the country’s top producer of rice and is a major producer of cotton, poultry and timber. Soybeans are the most widely planted crop, and the state is seeing growth in peanut acreage due in no small part to a state-of-the-art peanut shelling plant here in Jonesboro, he said.

“And even with all this success, 53 of Arkansas’ 75 counties lost population in the last census, something that is far too common in rural counties throughout the United States,” he said. “We all lose when rural America loses. To stem this loss, we must ensure our farm families and rural residents have access to affordable electricity, high speed internet and safe drinking water. Those forms of infrastructure are essential services and with proper investment rural communities can measurably increase their quality of life.”

Dave Bergmeier can be reached at 620-227-1822 or [email protected].