Lancaster Farming: Legislators Convene at PA Farm Show to Discuss 2023 Farm Bill

HARRISBURG, Pa. — The pathway to a new federal Farm Bill began with a listening session at the Pennsylvania Farm Show Jan. 13, and the Friday night event offered early indications of its direction.

Hosted by U.S. Rep. Glenn “G.T.” Thompson, R-Pa., who is the new chairman of the House Agriculture Committee, more than 20 speakers told a panel of legislators what they want to see, or not, in the new bill. Items such as crop insurance, conservation programs, labor, dairy, research and food security garnered the most comments.

David Smith, executive director of the PA Dairymen’s Association, said an essential worker program developed for the year-round needs of dairy, as opposed to a seasonal approach, has to be addressed. He also stressed the need to update producer history and consider increased feed costs when reevaluating the Dairy Margin Coverage program.

Smith and several other speakers also stressed the importance of allowing whole milk back into schools, an issue Thompson has championed.

Many speakers focused on risk protection, particularly the federal crop insurance program. Elizabeth Hinkel, president of the Pennsylvania Corn Growers Association, said drought conditions in 2022 resulted in a 30% decrease in corn production across the state. However, there are still producers reluctant to sign up for crop insurance, she said, because the cost versus potential return is not attractive enough.

“The new Farm Bill needs a robust crop insurance program so farmers can see the value of participating,” Hinkel said.

Frank Stoltzfus of the Pennsylvania Cattlemen’s Association said his group supports stronger risk management and disaster recovery programs, mandate-free conservation programs and continued funding of animal health programs.

However, Stoltzfus said there is one thing he doesn’t want to see in the 2023 bill.

“We are not in favor of a livestock title. It would open the door to unnecessary regulations and could cause difficulty in getting the Farm Bill passed,” he said.

A livestock title encompasses animal health provisions, livestock markets and other issues related to the industry.

Several speakers expressed support of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which is heavily funded by the bill. The SNAP program also received favorable comments from panel members, including Thompson and Pennsylvania Ag Secretary Russell Redding.

While House Agricultural Committee members have yet to be named — Thompson said it will happen soon — potential members who were present offered assessments of the 2023 bill.

U.S. Rep. Austin Scott, R-Ga., said he wants to reduce risk to producers by updating reference prices for commodities and lower loan rates to aid farmers with cash flow.

The current Farm Bill expires Sept. 30, and work on a new measure was delayed by lengthy debate in Washington to name a new House speaker. U.S. Rep. Doug LaMalfa, R-Calif., on Friday said there is some urgency to get the legislation implemented.

“We need to get it done this year, and we have some catching up to do,” he said.

LaMalfa expressed his feelings on several issues that will come up in the new bill, stating conservation programs should always be voluntary, and urging dairy and beef producers to remain vigilant in light of criticism over methane and climate change.

He said farmers need to be cautious when it comes to climate change.

“Don’t be railroaded into doing all the climate stuff,” he said. “Apply common sense.”

Freshman Rep. Derrick Van Orden, R-Wis., pointed out that he hails from a strong dairy district and looks forward to being named to the committee. Van Orden was direct in his support of the industry, stating, “Milk comes from a mammal. It does not come from a nut.”

While the Jan. 13 listening session wasn’t official, as the Agriculture Committee has yet to be named, Thompson said he was encouraged by the number of comments. He urged everyone to continue to be vocal with what they want to see in the 2023 Farm Bill.

“We heard today about crop insurance, workforce and innovation,” he said. “We need all of you at the table for 2023. You don’t want us writing this Farm Bill just listening to the voices inside the Beltway. We need your voices.”

Thompson did offer a glimpse at one of the difficulties his committee will face as it works on the new bill.

Inflation is hurting everyone, he said, including farmers, and the impact is going to linger.

“That’s a reality as we work on the 2023 Farm Bill,” Thompson said.