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RMFU Voices Priorities for 2012 Farm Bill to U.S. Agriculture Committee in Cheyenne, Wyoming

Rocky Mountain Farmers Union presented the following statement to members of the U.S. House Agriculture Committee in a hearing on the 2012 farm bill in Cheyenne, Wyoming.

America’s farm and food policy has an impact on all our citizens, but the small minority of Americans who grow our food must have a respected voice in that policy if it is going to be fair and usable. Rocky Mountain Farmers Union appreciates the hard work of the House Agriculture Committee to ensure that family producers get a fair hearing, and their expertise is respected. Here are our reflections on the status of farm bill programs and the priorities we hope you will choose in the coming months.

Farm and food policy must reflect the impacts of increased high energy costs, multiple years of natural disasters, variable market prices for commodities, and the loss of young people and job opportunities in rural America. Our national security depends on domestic food and fuel, and we must invest in those vital resources. The farmer has a unique business model that requires a safety net against economic or weather disasters. If America wants to avoid the twin dangers of dependence on imported food and dependence on the safety and nutrition offered by the corporate food industry, then we must continue to address the economic viability of family farming. Crop insurance and permanent disaster relief programs are a vital part of the solution.

RMFU was pleased to see, after our years of campaigning for it, a permanent disaster relief program in the 2008 farm bill, which made it possible for farmers and ranchers to recover quickly from the devastating setbacks that weather can have on crops and livestock. However, the current program has been inadequately funded, and a change of administration in 2009 has delayed implementation of rules and regulations. In the fields, farmers with claims going back to 2007 are still waiting for their relief. We urge Congress to fully fund the program and to adopt partial advance payments similar to those for conservation programs. Piles of bureaucratic red tape are never welcome, but there’s no worse time for them than when your cattle are dying in snowdrifts or your corn crop is flattened by a tornado.

The crop insurance program is as important as permanent, funded, and prompt disaster relief.  Crop insurance allows individual farmers to have some risk management on their side while they take on the financial risk of growing America’s food. Talk of redirecting the minimal funds in this program to the huge budget of nutrition programs (already 70% of the farm bill) is misguided. Without this increment of insurance, there is no guarantee that we will have the food to feed the hungry. We suggest that all risk management programs should be based on actual production history (APH), where available. For situations without APH, the qualified yield should not be lower than county Farm Service Agency yields. We urge the establishment of APH yield floors to protect the producer in the event of successive crop disasters.

The next farm bill must address the dire straits and economic risk faced by domestic dairy producers. Clearly we need a new dairy policy, including a comprehensive, effective safety net. RMFU looks forward to helping the committee shape such a policy.

The addition of a Competition title to the 2008 farm bill was a major victory for family farmers and ranchers, and the USDA/DoJ hearings on concentration in agricultural markets will provide useful information for the committee as you consider legislative responses to the looming threat of corporate monopoly in seed, inputs, crops, and livestock. We look for stronger legislation on competition, comparable to the successful efforts of Congress to get country of origin labeling operational in 2008. We can begin by requiring federal agencies to enforce the Packers and Stockyards Act and other existing antitrust laws. Like oversized banks, corporate producers “too big to fail” are a threat to the well-being and security of all American citizens from Main Street to Rural Route 2.

Our members include foresters and residents of forested areas, and forest health is an issue we are concerned about. We know first-hand, from our efforts to develop a forestry co-op, that this is an area that needs attention, and we are pleased to see a panel devoted to it at the Cheyenne hearing. We must establish incentives and programs to involve the private forester in the restoration of healthy forests. We need to see better communication, cooperation and collaboration between Bureau of Land Management, Fish and Wildlife, and the Forest Service, and we need to see support for the agricultural producers maintaining our forests and leasing land for sustainable livestock production.

We have worked closely with USDA Rural Development to strengthen cooperative businesses, to promote renewable energy and local foods, to assist small business growth in rural communities, and to improve our nation’s infrastructure. These are rural investments that the government and our citizens can be proud of, with returns in economic terms that are easy to measure. We hope the Rural Development program will continue to grow with healthy funding and Congressional support.

Rocky Mountain Farmers Union represents family farmers and ranchers, a small economic minority, but one that the vast majority of our fellow citizens rely on for life’s essential food. We support nutrition programs, not just as legislation but with donations and our labor as well, helping build programs like Farm to School. But the House Agriculture Committee must not forget why this bill is known as “the farm bill.” Without a viable farm economy, one that has a fair risk of loss balanced against the chance for prosperity, there will be less food for nutrition programs. Farmers don’t make money; they make food. And when the farmer can’t afford to do that any more, no amount of money will buy what doesn’t exist.