Glickman, Heitkamp, Fordyce tell corn growers to lobby broadly
Dan Glickman, the agriculture secretary in the Clinton administration, former Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., and Richard Fordyce, the Agriculture Department Farm Service Agency administrator in the Trump administration, all urged the nation’s corn growers to tell the story of agriculture to members of Congress from beyond the farm states and form alliances needed to pass the next farm bill.
In a panel discussion at the National Corn Growers Association’s Corn Congress meeting in Washington Thursday, they spoke broadly about their own careers, the future of farm policy and farmers’ ability to appeal to nonfarmers.
Glickman said one of his fondest memories as agriculture secretary and as a member of the House from Kansas was the collaboration on farm and nutrition policy. Congress may not be as bipartisan as when he was in the House, Glickman said, but “it’s still more bipartisan than most areas.”
With inflation at 9.1%, partly due to the costs of fuel, food and supply chain problems, “we are in a very volatile time,” Glickman said. With both prices and costs highly variable, he added, “commodity programs need to be flexible.”
Glickman said he doesn’t know what is going to happen in Ukraine and noted that he didn’t realize the impact that the loss of production from Ukraine would have on world markets.
“Who knows what Putin will do?” Glickman said.
Crop insurance needs to be “nimble, flexible and understandable,” he added. But he said increasing the budget for agricultural research is also important because the U.S. agricultural research budget has been going down while China’s and Brazil’s research budgets have been going up.
Heitkamp said that the House and Senate agriculture committees will talk about food security and that farm groups need to establish relationships with people who care about food stamps (now the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program or SNAP) and conservation.
“Everybody who says take the food security provisions out of the farm bill doesn’t understand the farm bill,” Heitkamp said.
“There is a lot of interest among environmentalists in collaborating with you on carbon issues,” she added.
“The rule is do no harm, but don’t be afraid to collaborate,” she advised, adding that the corn growers should “take the lead and broaden the discussion.”
If production agriculture programs were pulled out of the farm bill, they “would have much less support,” Glickman added.
“Not every congressional district has a farmer,” Heitkamp said.
Fordyce noted that he had been in charge of implementing the current farm bill, which he described as a big job made possible only by the staffs in the FSA county offices. The county employees and farmers both adjusted to the need for remote work during the coronavirus pandemic, he said, adding that county employees are so devoted they refer to the farmers in their area as “their farmers.”
Fordyce said that the decision of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, of the Trump administration, to put the Farm Service Agency, the Risk Management and the Natural Resources Conservation under the umbrella of the Farm Production and Conservation mission area had led to more efficiency.
Glickman agreed on the creation of FPAC, but he said that Perdue’s decision to move most of the employees in the Economic Research Service and the National Institute of Food and Agriculture was a failure. Many employees left the agencies and morale was terrible, he noted.
Glickman said that the difference between being a congressman and being an agriculture secretary was that as a congressman he had little authority but could say what he wanted, while as secretary he had a lot of power but “no freedom” because Congress had written the farm bill and he had to report to President Clinton.
CROP INSURANCE AND MINORITY FARMERS
On the subject of crop insurance, Heitkamp said she is concerned about proposals to “condition” crop insurance on farmers engaging in certain practices to qualify for it.
“What we have right now is working. It is an essential safety net at a time of high input prices,” she said.
On the issue of aid to minority farmers, Heitkamp said, in reference to the lawsuits that were filed against that aid, “Don’t poke people in the eye.
“There is tons of inequity in government spending,” Heitkamp said. “If you want to build the relationships to maintain Title I and the forestry programs, you don’t need to take water in your boat that you don’t need to take on.” With the continuing battle over the Waters of the United States rule and more corporate ownership and consolidation, “you are going to need to build broader relationships,” she said.
Glickman agreed, noting that the Pigford civil rights case took up a great deal of time when he was secretary.
Fordyce said now is the time to tell agriculture’s story to members of Congress without ag constituencies.
“We’ve never had a better time for advocacy. We can talk about climate-smart agriculture. Agriculture can truly be the folks on the white horse,” Fordyce said. When he is on an airplane between Washington and Kansas City, Fordyce said, he could tell great stories “that make agriculture look like a superstar on that whole flight.”
Heitkamp said the issue for the next farm bill is what initial incentives can be available to promote climate-smart agriculture. Ninety percent of the land mass of North Dakota is engaged in production agriculture, and climate programs could be another income stream, she said.
Heitkamp said there should also be a focus on international trade and added that “if I were in the Senate today and I were looking at long-term issues facing agriculture, land ownership would be one.”
She noted that farmers are not dealing with just the grandparents and parents of people who did not become farmers, but land going into trusts and fractionalized interests.
She asked, “How do we keep farmers making decisions about this land” without interfering with property rights?
WASHINGTON — The U.S. Department of Agriculture is investing up to $12 million in partnerships that expand access to conservation technical assistance for livestock producers and increase the use of conservation practices on grazing lands.…
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