By Mike Gilmore

LARNED — After a scary start, the wheels have begun to slowly turn on the 2018 Farm Bill.

Farmers and their governing agencies are in agreement that the last Farm Bill – though well-intentioned – failed as a producer’s safety net due to drastic funding cuts in a plummeting agricultural economy.

President Donald Trump’s first budget request to Congress proposed to cut $3.6 trillion in federal spending over the next 10 years. The budget, as submitted, was not kind to the nation’s farmers, who despite recognizing many unworkable tenets in the Farm Bill, also depend upon its programs to remain sustainable. The President’s budget trimmed USDA funding on mandatory farm bill programs by $228 billion over the next decade, while slashing the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program – which comprises 80 percent of Farm Bill entitlements – by 191 billion, more than 25 percent. The cuts hit crop insurance by $29 billion, conservation programs by $6 billion and $3 billion to other programs necessary to agriculture’s infrastructure.

The National Farmers Union — serving as a key player in Farm Bill development — recoiled at the President’s May budget unveiling, calling it a “slap in the face” to Trump’s rural voting public. Initiating a national campaign to raise awareness, the NFU organized a series of listening sessions among its member states to find out what farmers themselves needed or wanted to see in upcoming legislation.

“We want to see what you think about the Farm Bill, other than ‘it doesn’t work,’’ said Donn Teske, NFU vice-president, to a gathering of local farmers Friday evening at the Larned Knights of Columbus. “We’re not wanting to talk to states about what they should be getting; this is the chance for you to tell our staff what you need in the farm bill to survive.”

Pawnee County’s Friday meeting capped a week of four NFU listening sessions in the state begun in Lawrence Aug. 1. The other two sessions were in Mayetta and Concordia. “We’ve been getting a lot of good information,” said Teske, a Wheaton farmer who also serves as Kansas Farmers Union president. “So far, the meetings have been very successful.”

The Friday event was a collaborative effort between Pawnee County farmer and local Farmer’s Union president Tom Giessel and Tara Haslouer, Larned Farm Bureau agent, with several local sponsors. About 30 local farmers attended to share their views with Teske and Zack Clark, representing the NFU in Washington, D.C.


Larned Farm Bill Discussion

Top: About 30 local farmers gathered at the Larned Knights of Columbus Aug. 4 to provide input on the 2018 Farm Bill.
Left: Local farmer Tom Giessel points to a June 5, 1930 Tiller and Toiler encouraging local farmers to attend local Farm Bill listening sessions.
Right: NFU representative Zack Clark tells local farmers what seems to be in the works during early stages of 2018 Farm Bill discussion happening across the country prior to Congressional committee debate in Washington, D.C..
Photos by Mike Gilmore


Clark teed up the meeting with a short recap of current legislative moves on the bill, due up for floor debate in 2018. He told concerned farmers not to worry to much about the President’s first budget; that the Farm Bill had many moving parts and talks in committee were just beginning.

“I always tend to freak out about it and have a meltdown, because there are always problems with every President’s budget,” Clark said. “But there is no real reason for you all to get worked up. The President’s budget is always just a wish list and it’s usually dead on arrival in Congress. What matters is, what Congress – the House and the Senate – are doing with their budgets. The House ag committee was given a $10 billion instruction and that means $10 million in cuts. I don’t know where they’re coming from, but most folks think that it’s nutrition (SNAP). The House has already started their field meetings.

“The Senate is knee-deep in appointments that will probably last through September, although Sen. Pat Roberts said recently he wanted to get a bill out of committee to the floor in 2017.

“You probably won’t see a finished Farm Bill before the first quarter of 2018,” Clark said. “It’s important, though, that we have everything ready and right before then.”

While each state has its own policy and own concerns, the NFU is first looking at overall expectations, Clark said. “Everybody expects this Farm Bill to be evolutionary, not revolutionary,” he noted. “We’re being told that this is a flat-funded Farm Bill, that there is not going to be any new money in it.

“We see a problem with that. We say, ‘build programs that work.’ Don’t look at the budget and say that this is the best thing we can do. There are certain things in the Farm Bill that have really failed farmers. The last time we negotiated a Farm Bill, prices were fantastic and we thought it would never go back to the way it was. Well, now we are going to negotiate a bill when times are bad.”

Of the bill’s 12 titles, Clark said he is especially hearing complaints about Title 1 programs, which cover commodities – pricing and income supports for widely-produced crops. “We want higher reference prices for wheat, corn, sorghum, soy. Price-loss coverage is where we are spending a lot of time.”

Conservation is Title 2. “We want to look at what is an appropriate balance of CRP land,” he said. Clark noted that the acreage cap of 28 million acres in the last bill would likely be increased to the middle 30s, but not the 40 million that has been proposed.

Title 11 is crop insurance. “We are looking at the intersection of crop insurance and conservation compliance,” Clark said. There were a lot of demands as relates to those two. On the conservation side, that means doing things as far as risk management and how we can reward them through crop insurance. There has been some talk about a tiered plan. But that’s at a conceptual level right now. If we reward one person, are we punishing another.”

Turning the floor over to the table, the group discussed their own situations, which locally included credit programs and overproduction.

“We keep hearing about over-production and how do we turn the tide of overproduction of family farms,” Giessel noted. “Everybody is saying that farm markets are the key to overproduction. Others say conservation. The Farm Bill has always been about conservation. But I don’t think we’re conserving when we are using excess water, excess fertilizer, excess everything and produce a crop in surplus.

“It’s really difficult to talk about, but I think we need some kind of supply management,” said Giessel. “We’ve proven that we can raise piles of grain that we can’t move in a year’s time.”

Reprinted with permission from Larned’s Tiller & Toiler, pub. 8.8.2017.
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