There was an image going around recently (manipulated, of course) of a sailboat dragging a planter behind it. In some ways, that’s how farmers felt when they watched – while waiting for drier weather – as the farm bill debate was being cultivated in the House of Representatives.
Farmers, and many farm-supporting Congressmen, were itching to go, but some of the proposed attachments felt more like an anchor than a working implement.
When we have conditions like this spring, with many areas of our state not being able to get crops planted because fields looked more suitable for sailing than planting, it adds concern, uncertainty, and urgency to the mix.
Our focus as farmers is intense. But when the weather – and unnecessary attachments to the farm bill – fight us, all we can do is try to anticipate the best course of action and use it to our advantage.
As I write this, I look at concerns over timely field work and uncertainty, but within different fields.
First, let’s look at trade. We are in negotiations to update the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA). Michigan is in a unique position due to our agricultural diversity and the fact that we export many of our products to Canada and Mexico.
We have planted trade deals over many years with China, which is a huge customer of our agricultural products.
Our cherry producers are facing a dumping issue exacerbated by complications with an already saturated market due to trade with Turkey.
A recent government buy seeded by Senator Debbie Stabenow, ranking member of the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry; and Senator Gary Peters, will help that and other ag industries (see story on page 18 of this edition), but world trade conditions are still not all that conducive to creating a favorable trade seed bed.
We all understand leverage to get a better deal, but when we have so much at stake, it’s hard to watch negotiations get delayed by rainy rhetoric from the ditches. That’s where Michigan Farm Bureau members and staff come in.
Farm Bureau has relationships with legislators and the ability to negotiate. We need to constantly remind our government officials of the importance of trade and how it directly affects U.S. farmers’ bottom lines.
The farm bill is another big priority on our list. We recently had a number of amendments that lawmakers tried to attach to the farm bill that would have been detrimental to agriculture.
There were attacks on crop insurance, the sugar program, and attachments that would implement means testing (a method of determining your income to qualify for program payments). We were successful in defeating all of them, thanks to Michigan Congressmen Dan Kildee, Paul Mitchell and John Moolenaar, who all worked hard to defend our sugar policy. See a list of how Michigan’s representatives voted below.
When the farm bill finally came up for a vote, it still had muddy areas - mainly the nutritional portion and a group of legislators that tried to force a vote on immigration in exchange for their vote.
In the end it failed to get enough votes to pass. We are confident that we can resolve the issues and get it passed shortly.
These issues are huge for agriculture, and we will make sure your voice is heard loud and clear.
We might have been delayed in both farm and political fields this spring, but rest assured that we are engaged in all of these issues and will stand tall for all of you, so you can remain in the fields where you need to be.