Commodity groups seek input, advocacy for Farm Bill talks

Managing Editor

RICHMOND, Va. (Feb. 28, 2017) — Among the appeals by many speakers at last week’s Virginia Grains and Soybean Annual Conference urging farmers to advocate with policy makers for their industry, two agriculture lobbyists drilled down into its importance in preparing for the next Farm Bill.
Chip Bowling, chairman of the National Corn Growers Association and a Southern Maryland farmer set the tone with his welcoming remarks: “If you don’t work with them, they’ll work without you.”
Continuing into the breakout sessions, Jon Doggett, executive vice president or NCGA and Patrick Delaney, American Soybean Association policy communiciations director focused on their strategies for the next Farm Bill.
With more public scrutiny over Farm Bill funding, they said agriculture will have to defend its positions more vigorously.
It all puts more emphasis on forming coalitions with other groups where they can find common ground.
“We want to make sure that this is not the heavy lift that it would otherwise be,” Delaney said.
Offering some history, Doggett said environmental groups entered the Farm Bill discussion during the 1985 bill and in the last round, resulting in the 2014 Farm Bill, conservative and libertarian groups entered the debate, largely intent of removing government from the agriculture industry.
“They will be back,” Doggett said. “The thing that’s important is that we have partnerships and we have partnerships with a lot of different entities.”
Doggett said in the last Farm Bill cycle, developing a relationship with groups focused on hunger issues helped them in the “Food vs. Fuel debate” and conservation groups helped kill an amendment that would have eliminated subsidies for operations with net farm income above $250,000 a year and came together to support a requirement for federal program participation to have conservation plans written.
Doggett said without that coalition, the amendment would have passed.
“That partnership right there was vital and we’re going to have to do that again for the next Farm Bill,” he said.
Delaney said there are many opportunities for farmer members to advocate. Determining who in the legislator’s staff handles a particular issue and contacting them is one way. Delaney said the staffers are generally craving information on issues they don’t deal with daily and if farmers don’t reach out, the staffer will get information one way or another and it could easily be misleading.
Another opportunity is the change in members in the congressional agriculture committees, including 12 new members in the House of Representatives.
“These people are going to need to get up to speed very very quickly,” Delaney said.
Doggett said the commodity groups also need input from their members on what the most important issues are for the upcoming debate, urging growers to fill out surveys from the commodity groups and USDA’s National Agriculture Statistics Service.
“We’ve got to get down to a few main points,” Doggett said. “We can’t have have 47 main priorities to go after for the Farm Bill. We need to have a good idea of what are the most important things.”