ST. LOUIS — Agriculture has a big stake in a number of
issues being debated in Washington, D.C., not the least of which is the farm
And Garrett Hawkins has his eye on all of them.
The director of national legislative programs for the
Missouri Farm Bureau brought members of the St. Louis AgriBusiness Club up to
date on the status of negotiations on the farm bill and other legislation
The Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program — formerly
referred to as food stamps — likely will continue to be the source of a tug of
war between congressional Republicans and Democrats.
The sides are not close on suggested cuts to the program.
With expenditures of nearly $75 billion, it makes up by far the biggest portion
of the farm bill.
“The biggest hurdle is going to be nutrition programs,”
Hawkins said. “They are what caused everything to bog down in July, and that
will be the sticking point again in conference. How do you negotiate between a
$40-billion cut and a $4-billion cut? That really is a sticky wicket.
“The president’s not going to expect something that has a
severe cut in SNAP. It will be interesting to see how that conference committee
wades through those tough issues.”
Farm leaders also are keeping pressure on Congress to put
forward a plan to upgrade the nation’s transportation system, vital for the
movement of agricultural commodities as well as inputs such as
“We’re tired of waiting for investments in our
infrastructure,” Hawkins said. “With the Panama Canal expansion program to be
opened in 2014 and what it means for these larger vessels, we have some work to
do with U.S. ports. We continue to talk about the need for locks and dams and
other infrastructure for this part of the country.”
While not directly affecting many row-crop farmers,
immigration remains a hot-button issue and one Farm Bureau and other ag
organizations are tracking.
“It seems the House is still wanting to move on immigration
this fall,” Hawkins said. “Some say they’re better off not passing anything.
This is a priority for the president. It’s a priority for agriculture, too. It’s
not one you hear about a lot in the Midwest.
“It’s one where on the House side we have some work to do.
It’s going to be important that agriculture step up to the plate and get
something through the House, because if you don’t get something through the
House, you’re dead.”
Hawkins still holds out a modicum of optimism on tax reform,
though that issue may be overshadowed by much of the crisis mentality reigning
“There’s still a chance of an overhaul of our tax code,
maybe an end-of-the-year deal,” he said. “We’re trying to stay on top of
One of the most pressing issues, according to Farm Bureau
leaders, is what the organization considers overreaching environmental
The American Farm Bureau Federation developed the “Stop the
Flood of Regulation” campaign, a call for farmers to contact their
representatives and ask them to prevent further encroachment by the
Environmental Protection Agency. It is aimed largely at curbing the reach of the
Clean Water Act.
“That’s always on our watch list,” Hawkins said. “There are
always attempts to expand permitting requirements on livestock and poultry