Farm Bill Passes Senate― Adams County links Producers and Consumers
Posted: June 25, 2012
The forum, moderated by Russell Redding (Dean at Delaware Valley College), included panel members shown: Kendall Wilkinson (FFA member), Megan Shreve (Executive Director of SCAAP) and Sam Kieffer (Government Relations Director of the PA Farm Bureau).
Last week a group of Adams County organizations held a public forum discussing the 2012 Farm Bill to educate and discuss possibilities for what these two sides of the food story can do to better work together.
In the production world, a producer can range from a backyard or small operation producer who may sell at a local farmers market or provide eggs to those in their neighborhood to large operations which feed thousands of people—in Adams County we have the good fortune in having a range in size of operations which always guarantees us a fresh and local food supply. (Granted the weather cooperates!)
The consumption aspect is different altogether, with grocery stores, restaurants and wholesalers to farmers markets providing fresh and rich foods to consumers. Yet there also exists the reality of consumers who are incapable of providing enough meals for their families.
What a lot of consumers and producers don’t understand is that the Farm Bill links and affects all aspects of food, whether one call it a farm or food bill― it is the driver of our food system in production and consumption.
Last Thursday the Senate approved the ‘Ag Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012’ and sent it to the House. If approved, this bill will replace the expiring 2008 Farm Bill in September with major changes in the Commodity, Conservation, and Nutrition Titles such as elimination of direct payments, strengthening crop insurance, consolidating conservation programs and increasing accountability in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP or commonly known food stamps).
The ‘Know Your Food’ 2012 Farm Bill Forum held last week at HACC Gettysburg campus addressed producer and consumer concerns as to what these changes meant for the Adams County food system. Megan Shreve, Executive Director of South Central Community Action Program (SCCAP) and representative of the Adams County Food Policy Council spoke of the lack of support for food insecure families and mentioned that while 11% of Adams County residents use food stamps another 35% are food insecure meaning they are not poor enough to qualify for benefits but do not have the means to properly support and feed themselves and their families. With a diverse population of producers and consumers Adams County has the opportunity to link production and food assistance.
Russell Redding, Dean at Delaware Valley College and former PA Secretary of Ag, moderated the event and noted that “so much about the Farm Bill is about social aspects,” as well as the importance of interactions between consumers, producers and policy makers.
Sam Kieffer, Government Relations Director of the PA Farm Bureau, joined the Forum after a day in Washington DC at the Senate debates on the bill. He reminded residents that “we as a community would be remissed if we did not talk about the fiscal reality” of our national debt, but also the volatility of farm income as for “every good year you’re paying off two bad years.”
With direct payments and countercyclical payments repealed from the bill, crop insurance is the major risk management option left. Sam Kieffer explained that crop insurance “can guarantee a paycheck—it does not guarantee a profit. You need to be able to sleep at night.” With weather and market uncertainties in production these are necessary policies to help ensure that agriculture can continue to feed people. Crop Insurance is sold by private agents and the policy is underwritten by the federal government and can also act as collateral for operating loans. Unfortunately, like most insurance, the process is extremely complicated and not available for growers of every crop.
Kendall Willkinson, an upcoming senior at Gettysburg Area High School and member of Future Farmers of America (FFA), supports crop insurance saying it will increase assistance to new farmers and cover more crops than before and at lower costs. As a young farmer looking to continue her education in Ag Business, she emphasizes that “you’re going to need your youth to step up.” With the average age of PA farmers well over 50, programs such as the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and Conservation Reserve Program increase access to capital as well as promote the transition of land to new and younger farmers.
Kendall recently participated at the State competition for FFA and received 2nd individually in Agronomy and the Gettysburg team placed 1st. Her involvement with FFA has been crucial for her agricultural education; she says “the biggest way you can get involved is to continue youth agricultural education, help your youth become better farmers.”
Yet the fiscal realities are hard to look past. John Hess a local dairy operator commented during the forum that “we’re all trying to make a living, we all have debt—is it fair to transition to the next generation with that much debt?” Russell Redding is an advocate for the need for a conversation regarding farm transitions asking “is it really possible to finance this? When you look at the challenge ahead—an extra 2 billion people with the same expectations to eat as we do, how do you want to do that? Having that conversation publically is really important.”
Conservation efforts were also a topic of interest during the forum with Sam Kieffer emphasizing that the 2012 Farm Bill will focus more on efforts regarding working lands rather than increasing acres going into retirement. While 23 programs are being consolidated into 13, the improved crop insurance program will require participants to follow conservation practices.
The Farm Bill also addresses rural development, energy, forestry, trade and research. Sam Kieffer spoke on research and how vital it has been to improving production yields in agriculture. With the projection being that by 2050 the world food supply will approximately have to be doubled with less acres available, more regulations and more public scrutiny. Research institutions will play a large role in helping increase our food supply, but also improving nutrition habits in populations.
The House is set to begin looking at the Farm Bill this week with expectations of higher cuts, possibly in the Nutrition title. “The 2008 Farm Bill which is expiring,” says Russell “looks more like PA agriculture than any other Farm Bill” with more programs for specialty crops and less focus on Mid-West commodity production. As Congress continues the debate about our food system, it is vital for consumers and producers to understand how tightly they are linked and which ways they can work together to continually improve food access and support local agriculture.
A big thank you to Russell Redding, Megan Shreve, Sam Kieffer and Kendall Wilkinson for leading us in this important discussion as well as all the partnering organizations: Adams County Ag Innovations, Adams County Farm Bureau, Adams County Food Policy Council, Gettysburg Young Farmers, Adams County Ag Teachers, Adams County Tech-Prep, Gettysburg Adams Chambers of Commerce, Harrisburg Area Community College Healthy Adams County and Penn State Extension—THANK YOU!