House Ag Committee Continues Focus on Farm Economy

A news release yesterday from the House Agriculture Committee stated that, “Today, Rep. Rodney Davis (R., Il.), Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee’s Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture, and Research, held a hearing to highlight the positive and negative factors impacting cost of production. This is the third hearing in the series Focus on the Farm Economy [note that a summary of the first two hearings can be found here and here], where each of the six subcommittees will examine the state of the farm economy from the perspective of the subcommittee. Members heard from witnesses who provided insight into different programs and policies impacting farm efficiency, productivity, and profitability.”

In his opening statement, Subcommittee Chairman Davis noted that, “I had an amendment in the 2014 farm bill, which would establish a permanent subcommittee of the EPA Science Advisory Board to ensure the voice of agriculture was represented in the agency’s decision making process. Not surprisingly, more than two years later, the EPA leadership has yet to appoint even a single member to this committee. The result of this disregard for the law is a continuing flood of decisions and actions contrary to the needs and desires of America’s farmers and ranchers.

“Unfortunately, it is not just the policies of the EPA that add unreasonable production costs. The implementation of the Food Safety Modernization Act will pose enormous challenges for producers and processors with little evidence that some requirements will offer quantifiable food safety benefits. We have often spoken about the threat of the ill-conceived Vermont law governing agricultural biotechnology, yet we are also concerned about what many observers believe is unnecessary regulatory hurdles researchers must go through to bring new applications of biotechnology to the market. As anyone can plainly see, the list of overly burdensome regulations threatening the farm economy is apparently endless.

“Today, the subcommittee will focus more broadly on many of the factors that contribute positively and negatively to the cost of production for our nation’s farmers and ranchers. While the farm safety net helps somewhat mitigate the impact of chronically low prices, our nation’s farmers continue to operate on very thin (and in some cases negative) margins. Going forward, their ability to contain costs will be key to their survival, particularly if low prices persist.”

Subcommittee ranking member Suzan DelBene (D., Wash.) noted yesterday that, “Passing the 2014 Farm Bill itself was a huge accomplishment. But it was also, in my view, the best Farm Bill yet for specialty crop growers, which make up a sizeable percentage of producers in my district. The investments made in programs like the Specialty Crop Research Initiative, Specialty Crop Block Grants, and the Organic Research and Extension Initiative were unprecedented and have a huge impact in the real world. This is a prime example of how Congress should be investing in programs that give us a great return on our investment, while saving money in the long run.”

Chuck Connor, the former Deputy Agriculture Secretary at USDA, who is now the President & Chief Executive Officer National Council of Farmer Cooperatives, pointed out at yesterday’s hearing that, “In examining the dynamics of the farm economy, we are reminded that numerous influences – some of which are out of our control—come into play. Extremely volatile weather and global markets result in equally volatile farm gate prices, yields, and costs of production. Today’s margins for most agricultural commodities are tight, and farm income has retreated significantly from its highs just a few years ago. Our common, ultimate goal— and at the heart of the farm bill— is to preserve the productive capacity of our farms by maintaining a responsive and equitable safety net, combined with adequate funding, for all regions and commodities, as well as comprehensive risk management tools, such as a strong crop insurance program.”

Mr. Connor added that, “Biotech crops contribute substantially to the rural economy by enabling farmers to produce more food in a more time efficient way while using fewer inputs. Globally, farmers growing biotech crops saw net economic benefits at the farm level amounting to more than $20 billion in 2013, the most recent year for which there is data, and more than $133 billion in the thirty years since biotech crops were first introduced. Of the total farm income benefit, 60 percent is due to yield gains.

“Gains in productivity associated with biotech crops also have been essential in bolstering American agricultural trade, which totaled more than $130 billion in 2015.

“Additionally, USDA’s Economic Research Service (ERS) has published reports noting how the adoption of biotech crops by farm families is associated with higher off-farm household income.”

Also yesterday, Richard Guebert, Jr., the President of the Illinois Farm Bureau indicated that, “Probably our greatest concern at the moment is the failure of the Senate to take up and pass legislation to prohibit mandatory labeling of GMO foods. This failure may well lead to a patchwork of state labeling requirements that will be costly and difficult to sort out. If Congress cannot solve this problem, there is no question the long-term outlook for farmers is higher input costs, potentially lower yields, a more challenging environment in controlling pests – and higher costs for consumers.”

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