SPRINGFIELD, Ill. — Crop insurance protection, market access and nutrition programs were among the top priorities expressed in a farm bill listening session held during the Illinois State Fair’s Agriculture Day on Aug. 16.
U.S. Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., heard comments by representatives from seven agriculture groups and several in attendance at the session hosted by the Illinois Department of Agriculture. State Sen. Patrick Joyce, D-Essex, served as moderator along with Bustos.
Bustos chairs the House Agriculture Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management and has been holding farm bill listening sessions throughout the country.
The current farm bill expires in 2023.
Kristi Jones, IDOA deputy director, led off the listening session, noting the importance of continuing programs such as the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Agricultural Marketing Service’s Local Food Purchase Assistance Cooperative Agreement to build local food hubs for underserved farmers and underserved communities, and Specialty Crop Block Grants.
Trade promotion was another priority for IDOA in the farm bill.
“For every $1 invested in export market development programs, $24 is returned in export revenue. Those are opportunities for farmers, for agribusinesses and job creation in this state,” Jones said.
She also stressed the importance of federal and state governments working together to prepare for any potential animals diseases.
Rodney Weinzierl, Illinois Corn Growers Association and Illinois Corn Marketing Board executive director, said discussion around nutrition and farm bill’s Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program will be an “overarching issue” going forward.
“With inflation going on and coming out of COVID, and a lot of people not back working to a degree, those costs are high right now, it has a high Congressional Budget Office score, and I think there’s going to be a whole lot of debate and discussion around that. I think it is exceedingly important as production agriculture that we are supportive of nutrition programs,” he said.
Weinzierl noted only about 40 congressional districts in the United States contain production agriculture and 218 votes are needed to pass anything in the U.S. House.
“So, we have to convince other members of Congress to be supportive of something in that bill that they care about. Every district has a challenge with food nutrition within their district,” he said.
Crop insurance needs to continue to help farmers managed risk.
“We are very interested in maintaining Section 508 (h) system in crop insurance where private sector individuals can develop crop insurance products. We need that innovation in the crop insurance space,” Weinzierl added.
Ron Kindred, Illinois Soybean Association vice chairman, continued the crop insurance conversation.
“The most important thing for us in the farm bill is protecting crop insurance, making sure it is a viable tool that we can use as farmers here in Illinois. It is our top risk management tool to go along with the PLC and ARC programs that are currently offered. Maintaining that safety net is a top priority for our organization,” he noted.
Another ISA priority is keeping the nutrition program in the farm bill.
“We are farmers, we grow food and there are hungry people in the United States that need food. So, we think there’s a good synergy there between growers and the need in the United States and we need to make sure we keep the nutrition program with the farm bill,” Kindred said.
“There have been times in the past where they tried to separate those and we know how big of a problem that could be and if they do separate those there’s a very good possibility we don’t get a farm bill.”
ISA would also like to see increased funding for the Market Access Program and the continuation of voluntary incentive-based conservation programs.
Jennifer Tirey, Illinois Pork Producers Association executive director, said Illinois is ranked fourth in the nation in pork production, with producers ranging from contract to independent farmers, all of which can be dramatically impacted by an animal disease outbreak.
The 2018 farm bill included funding for a foot and mouth disease vaccine bank, and IPPA wants that provision to continue in the new farm bill.
“We’d like to see in the farm bill with at least the current levels if not more dollars for animal disease to not only keep foreign animal diseases like African swine fever out of our country, but also foot and mouth disease. That’s a critical component,” Tirey said.
“Also, we support market access. Thirty percent of our product is now sent overseas to different export markets. The export market is a critical way to keep our pork producers moving forward.”
Liz Brown-Reeves, Illinois Beef Association state lobbyist, concurred with Tirey and also noted the organization’s support for biofuels.
“Biofuels is a priority as a Midwest beef coalition. Also most of our members are row crop producers, so the strong crop insurance programs that provide adequate risk management safety nets are very important for our crop production,” Brown-Reeves said.
Richard Guebert Jr., Illinois Farm Bureau president, said the crop insurance risk level should be maintained for producers.
“It’s vitally important, particularly in these volatile times of high input costs, high fuel costs and high commodity prices. We all know that at some point in time, probably sooner than later, commodity prices will fall back and if they fall below the cost of production that impacts everyone, particularly our young farmers and beginning farmers,” Guebert said.
IFB supports increasing Conservation Reserve Program acres and updating rental rates without competition from USDA, as well as increasing Farm Service Agency loan limits and simplifying the process for beginning farmer loans.
On the livestock end, IFB supports repealing and replacing the Margin Protection Program with a program that mirrors federal crop insurance.
“The Farm Bureau believes the next farm bill must be WTO compliant, provide price and revenue protection for farmers and link the nutrition and commodity programs together,” Guebert said.
“This bill must continue to give farmers a choice between programs based on revenue and price and encourage stewardship decisions that maintain public support. We need to have conservation programs that are voluntary and help farmers achieve the Nutrient Loss Reduction Strategy goals.”
Raghela Scavuzzo, Illinois Specialty Growers Association executive director, said some of the organization’s issue and concerns overlap those of other commodity groups, including support for the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program and market access.
“Market access is important for trade. While most of our farms are direct to consumer or in the state, when trade access is decreased our farms are directly impacted because that product still has to go somewhere. If it goes on to the grocery store market those are no longer available to the smaller farmers that oftentimes try to sell products at the grocery store,” Scavuzzo said.