Farm Bureau president: Keep nutrition in the farm bill
SAN JUAN, Puerto Rico — Reauthorization of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly known as food stamps, must stay in the farm bill, American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall told the membership here Sunday at the group’s annual national convention.
“We must keep farm policy unified with nutrition policy. When ag and hunger advocates lock arms, we have our best chance of success, which we must never take for granted,” Duvall said.
His comments are important as Congress takes up the farm bill in 2023. When the farm bill came up in 2018, the Republican-controlled House voted to separate SNAP from the farm bill, but then had to vote again to put the two back together because the Senate would not vote to separate them. Farm lobbyists maintain that it would be impossible to pass a farm bill without keeping SNAP and the farm programs together because members of Congress from the urban states won’t vote for farm programs without SNAP attached.
Separately, John Newton, a former Farm Bureau chief economist who is now the chief economist for the Republicans on the Senate Agricutlure Committee, also called for nutrition to be kept in the farm bill.
With the House in Republican hands, conservatives concerned about spending levels may try to separate SNAP and the farm programs on the theory that it may be easier to cut the budget for both programs if they are not united. Most Farm Bureau members are Republicans and some members from rural states question the need for the SNAP program, but Farm Bureau leaders have said it is important for the farmers to tell Congress to keep the programs together.
In his speech, Duvall said Farm Bureau members’ priorities are the farm bill, labor, and sustainability. He criticized the Biden administration’s Waters of the United States rule and announced an agreement with John Deere on farmers’ right to repair machinery.
On the farm bill, Duvall said, the priorities are to “protect and expand” crop insurance and make sure that conservation programs remain voluntary and science-based, as well as keeping nutrition policy in the bill.
On the issue of advancing climate-smart farming practices in the farm bill, a priority for the Biden administration and the Democrats, Duvall said, “We are at the table for that discussion through our leadership in the Food and Agriculture Climate Alliance. It is important to ensure that any additional resources go to voluntary, market-based programs.”
Duvall noted that 81 members of Congress are “brand new,” and that another 179 members weren’t in Congress during the 2018 farm bill debate.
“That makes 260 who may not understand the importance of farm bill programs,” he said. “Nearly half of Congress! We have to put in the extra work to show them why we need to pass the farm bill this year.”
Duvall also noted that when he was elected Farm Bureau president, he said the issue he would most like to discuss with Congress was labor and immigration.
He said labor is the second most important issue for Farm Bureau members after the farm bill, but Farm Bureau did not support the bill that was under consideration in the last Congress, and the United Farm Workers blamed Farm Bureau and the Republicans for the failure of the bill that had already passed the House and was under consideration in the Senate.
At a news conference, Sam Kieffer, Farm Bureau vice president of public policy, said that the bill put forward in the Senate was not good enough for Farm Bureau to support.
Farm Bureau supports E-verify, a system for verifying that a farmworker is in the United States legally, but that the program “hanging over the heads of producers” without a sufficient number of work visas was an issue of concern.
The third issue for Farm Bureau members, Duvall said, is sustainability, proof of which many agribusiness companies are demanding. Duvall praised Congress’s decision to pass the SUSTAINS Act and a revised Growing Climate Solutions Act.
“These bills give us the tools to help implement voluntary, market-driven programs on our farms,” Duvall said.
Duvall repeated previous criticism of the Biden administration’s proposed Waters of the United States rule.
“Now, to give credit where it’s due, [Environmental Protection Agency] Administrator [Michael] Regan did attempt to clarify the rules around prior converted cropland, ponds and ditches,” he said.
“But overall, the rule muddies the water. It creates confusion that will require more paperwork, more delays, and yes, more lawyers. We’re not done yet. We will do everything we can do to arrive at a commonsense rule.”
Duvall also said he is worried about the Securities and Exchange Commission’s proposal to require all companies to report greenhouse gas emissions in their supply chains, a rule known as environmental, social and governance reporting.
“We knew it would have big effects on our farms,” Duvall said. “That rule could have meant more red tape and confusing paper work. We activated our network of advocates. In just a few weeks, you generated nearly 5,000 messages to the SEC, and we got their attention. I have spoken to Chair [Gary] Gensler, and he gets it. Still, we’ll keep a watchful eye as they rework that rule.”