Planting the seed: 2018 Farm Bill starts with farmers at K-State

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Justin Short uses a combine to harvest wheat on the Short Family Farm. (File Photo by Hannah Hunsinger | The Collegian)

The gavel fell for the first hearing of the 2018 Farm Bill just minutes after 2 p.m. in Kansas State’s McCain Auditorium.

K-State hosted the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry, chaired by Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Dodge City, for “Hearing from the Heartland: Perspectives on the 2018 Farm Bill from Kansas.”

Eighteen producers and professionals in the agriculture industry gave three-minute testimonies about what is and is not working in the current Farm Bill and what they believe should be the priorities of the 2018 Farm Bill.

“Together we will blaze a trail to a new Farm Bill,” Roberts said.

K-State President Richard Myers said it was an honor to host the first Farm Bill hearing, as every person listening will be impacted by the deliberations of the policymakers.

“What an opportunity we have here today to watch government in action,” Myers said. “This is a serious hearing — a very serious hearing — just like if it were held in one of the hearing rooms on Capitol Hill. It’s the same deal.”

Rep. Roger Marshall, R-Great Bend, said he was pleased to welcome the senator back to Kansas, the leading state in wheat and sorghum production.

“This is a fitting place to launch a review of our current farm programs and discuss solutions for the upcoming 2018 bill,” Marshall said.

Agriculture pioneers

The panelists who discussed the solutions they desire in a new Farm Bill are pioneers in the industry, Jackie McClaskey, secretary of the Kansas Department of Agriculture, said.

“(The panelists) embody the same pioneer spirit of their forefathers,” McClaskey said. “They show the values of family and faith and hard work and entrepreneurship and community and achievement every day in what they do. And while yes, everybody is concerned about commodity prices and a depressed farm economy, at the same time, what I see is a positive attitude … but we hear the same challenges you’ll hear about today.”

McClaskey said some of the solutions producers desire most in the next Farm Bill include a stronger safety net for farmers, a reliable workforce, regulations based on sound science, common sense and good business mindsets, conservation programs and access to more international markets so they have a place to move their product to.

“I sit here very confident that … we can meet those challenges,” McClaskey said. “There’s nothing that we can’t accomplish. I believe in the future of agriculture and I know this room does, and I believe that we can reach solutions together.”

Not like the last bill

Roberts said he knows it will not be easy to pass the new Farm Bill, as it will take getting those in Washington, D.C. to understand the current struggles of those in the industry.

“This farm bill journey will not be like the last one,” Roberts said. “The agriculture sector enjoyed high prices during the last debate, now we face multiple years of low prices across the board.”

To get those in D.C. to understand agriculturalists may not be easy, Roberts said, but he has no doubt it can be done through the producers’ optimism and ingenuity.

Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Michigan, said the efforts of passing a Farm Bill remind her of the values of the military.

“Nothing says honor, courage and commitment like battling more than 70 amendments together to get a bipartisan Farm Bill through on the Senate floor,” Stabenow said.

It is a daunting task, Roberts said, but with the values of agriculturalists, he said he knows it will be done.

“A farmer doesn’t plant a seed without faith and optimism of harvesting a good crop, but passing a new farm bill will not be easy,” Roberts said. “That’s why with (the producers’) help in crafting a bill that meets the needs of all regions and all crops is absolutely necessary.”

Priorities of wheat growers

Kenneth Wood, owner and operator of Riverside Stock Farm Inc. and president of the Kansas Association of Wheat Growers, spoke on the importance of good farm policy to growers of the state’s leading crop.

After record yields of wheat during the 2016 growing season, Wood said high wheat production led to record stockpiles of the commodity in Kansas and around the world, which then resulted in record-low prices.

“This situation highlights the need for federal programs like crop insurance and Title One and illustrates the vital importance of a farm safety net,” Wood said.

For Wood, crop insurance that protects against droughts, floods and tornadoes is the most important segment of a farm safety net as the insurance is something he has personal experience with.

In May 2016, Wood said his home, vehicles and approximately 300 acres of his crops were destroyed by an EF4 tornado. Crop insurance is what allowed him to remain in the industry.

“For most of us, crop insurance will not guarantee a good year, but it offers the promise of another year,” Wood said.

Wood said despite the passage of a five-year Farm Bill, some in Congress still try to come after the federal crop insurance and Title One programs.

“The availability of crop insurance was not the deciding factor, but certainly a contributing factor in my decision to rebuild my business,” Wood said. “I honestly don’t think I would have had the courage to start over without having the protection that crop insurance offers.”

Two other priorities for Kansas wheat growers include better access to trade and better enforcement of trade deals.

“Our association has been a major supporter of international trade deals such as NAFTA and TPP,” Wood said. “On average, half of the wheat grown in Kansas is exported. Without trade, the Kansas farmer will continue to struggle.”

Next steps

Roberts said he appreciated the testimonies, advice and struggles that were shared by the producers and he will take all of it into consideration when working on the Farm Bill with those in D.C.

“Your fight and perseverance yields results,” Roberts said.

For those who want to provide advice and counsel for the Farm Bill, Roberts said he encourages them to submit their comments at www.ag.senate.gov. The link will remain open for five business days after the Feb. 23 hearing.

“We want to hear from you,” Roberts said. “We want to hear your advice, counsel and suggestions.”

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Kaitlyn Alanis
Hi, I'm Kaitlyn Alanis, former news editor for the Collegian and a May 2017 graduate in agricultural communications and journalism. I have never tried a hamburger and I hate the taste of coffee, but I love writing stories and sharing what I learn with our readers. By writing for the Collegian, I can now not only sing along when the K-State Band plays "The Band is Hot," but I also know that most agriculture students did not grow up on a farm, how to use an AED to save someone's life and why there is a bust of MLK Jr. outside of Ahearn Field House. Thanks for reading!