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Fort Report: An Uncertain Future for Farm Policy

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This week, the U.S. House of Representatives took up the Farm Bill. As I wrote in last week's Fort Report, Congress and the President have the responsibility to renew and reshape the federal policy that guides our nation's farm, food, clean energy, and rural development programs. Regrettably, the House failed yesterday to approve its proposal for a new Farm Bill. Frankly, I was shocked by the outcome.

I supported the bill and thought that in the end it would pass. Leading up to the vote, there was a very good, open process that wasn't stilted or stymied as debate in Washington often tends to be. Members of Congress who had reasonable concerns were able to bring them forward in the form of amendments. While it was an imperfect bill, I felt it achieved significant reforms and was an important step forward for our farm families and rural places.

There is a poor understanding in Washington of the importance of ag policy. There is also a limited constituency for it. Traditionally, we are able to come to a consensus on the food security and farm support issues to create a bill that is reflective of the rural and urban communities in America. With the failure of this Farm Bill proposal in the House, the question must be asked if this signals the end of farm policy processes as we've known them.

Some people might welcome that scenario, but others won't. In the Heartland, we understand that reasonable stabilization policies are important to sustain the profound benefits agriculture provides all Americans. Our farmers provide not only a safe and affordable food supply, they care for our land and water, help create clean energy, and promote economic sustainability in our small towns and rural communities.

The future of farm support programs is uncertain. If we end up extending the existing policy, we don't save money, we don't create better risk management tools, and we don't maintain the robust support for nutrition programs along with the appropriate reforms that this bill sought to balance.

In one bright spot, I was able to get an amendment successfully added to the Farm Bill earlier in the process. The amendment would have capped farm commodity payments at $250,000 per year for any one farm and closed loopholes in current law to ensure payments reach working farmers. This balanced approach helps ensure a robust agricultural marketplace and helps prevent the concentration of land and resources into fewer and fewer hands. The amendment was adopted with bipartisan support and approved with a comfortable margin.

I wish I had a good answer for what will happen next with ag policy. Unfortunately, next steps are unclear, which should be concerning for all Americans. I'm hopeful the opportunity still exists to get the job done on a Farm Bill this year, but this week's events in the House signal the difficulties involved in passing new farm legislation the traditional way.


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