Support for young and new farmers, reference pricing among producer priorities for 2023 farm bill
Rep. Johnson, Rep. Thompson take in roundtable discussion
BRIDGEWATER, S.D. — Work on the 2023 farm bill is behind schedule, but two United States representatives heard from industry experts who shared their thoughts and recommendations Tuesday on what they’d like to see prioritized during negotiations.
Rep. Dusty Johnson (R-SD) and Rep. Glenn “GT” Thompson (R-PA), the Republican leader on the House Agriculture Committee, listened as representatives from various professional trade organizations outlined their thoughts at the Scott Stahl farm north of Bridgewater.
Thompson, who toured the Raven Precision Ag Center in Brookings with Johnson earlier in the day, said it was good to get in front of the public to hear their concerns after COVID-19 delayed work on the bill.
“I think that’s why we need more of these sessions. We’re about two years behind on the farm bill hearings for various reasons,” Thompson said prior to the roundtable. “Part of it was COVID-19, and part of it was inexcusable, actually. So we have to have these discussions.”
Thompson and Johnson were joined by representatives of the South Dakota Corn Growers Association, South Dakota Soybean Association, South Dakota Dairy Producers, South Dakota Farm Bureau, South Dakota Cattlemen’s Association, South Dakota Pork Producers and Breske Crop Insurance and a small audience.
Issues ranged from one organization to another, but a few points of interest were shared across the board, including the possibility of raising reference prices for commodities as the profit margin shrinks for producers. Many commodity prices are at near record highs, but the input costs for producing those commodities have risen as well.
Thompson said it’s an issue that needs more discussion.
“I think one of the smartest things we’ve done since 2014 was in the dairy area, where the risk management tool we did wasn’t based on a reference price, but on a margin,” Thompson said. “At the end it’s what’s most important to the farm families and is it a margin and do we need to rethink that? I don’t know the answer to that, I just know we have to have lots of conversations.”
Johnson said input costs should be factored into the equation, but it can be tricky when drafting policy that will cover the next five years.
“Reference prices for commodities probably need to be updated. We’re in a very different market environment than we were a few years ago. We want to make sure we’re accounting for higher input costs. We need to take a good educated guess, a data-driven estimate on what our input costs are going to look like a year, two years, three years down the road,” Johnson said. “There is going to be a budget for this farm bill and we’re going to have to figure out in the world of limited resources how we provide the kind of risk mitigation tools that (Thompson) is talking about to the American farm family. And you can turn the dial a little bit on things like crop insurance and Title I to try to make sure you’re hitting the sweet spot.”
Scott Stahl, president of South Dakota Corn Growers Association, said he could attest to the increase of input costs over the last few years.
“There has been a huge amount of volatility in our input costs over the last few years, which has really created a lot of difficult decisions at times. How do we continue to produce more with less?” Stahl said.
Johnson and Thompson expressed bolstering support for new and young farmers just entering the profession, as well as drawing more people to rural areas. Stahl also hoped for help for young and new farmers hoping to get into the industry. Industry changes like the emergency of ethanol have helped with that problem, he said.
“I’m a fourth-generation farmer and I appreciate what you said about repopulating rural America. I think that’s something we can see first hand through my experience and what the ethanol industry has done,” Stahl said. “It’s provided an opportunity. We have a cattle operation that has allowed us to have some diversification in our operation, and just the byproduct of distillers grain has provided a lot of synergy for our corn industry in South Dakota.
Scott VanderWal, president of the South Dakota Farm Bureau, said crop insurance and commodity programs were important topics for his members.
“Risk management tools that include both federal crop insurance and commodity programs as top funding programs are important to our members. The expansion of insured plantings, including grasslands, is something that is right now not part of our national policy, but I know we’ve had some producers in western South Dakota who say if you have a piece of grass and you’re going to hay it or chop it, you can insure it. But if you want to graze it, you can’t. It seems to me it would be fair to allow people who are going to graze that land to be able to insure it as well,” VanderWal said.
He also mentioned keeping a close eye on CRP land and seeing it more heavily restricted to marginal acres.
The roundtable continued for about an hour before the group took a tour of the farm. Thompson and Johnson then departed to attend the Holstein Annual Convention Reception in Sioux Falls.
Johnson noted there is more work to be done. The midterm elections could shift the power balance in the United States House back to the Republicans, which would likely result in Thompson assuming the chair of the House Agriculture Committee. And while he feels that’s a good thing, he said the agriculture committee has traditionally been one of the most cooperative committees in Washington, D.C.
Johnson doesn’t think there will be any radical adjustments to the previous farm bill in the 2023 version. The plan now is to continue hearing sessions like the one held Tuesday to continue to get a finger on the pulse of producers around the country and make necessary adjustments. He said he would continue to work hard for the American farmer and said Thompson is an excellent colleague to have in the corner of a strong United States agriculture industry.
“I think we don’t need a revolutionary farm bill. I think we have a few tweaks that we need to make sure we tackle,” Johnson said. “So many people want to pull us apart. All (Thompson) wants to do is make sure American agriculture is better tomorrow than it was yesterday, and boy oh boy do we need more of that.”