Senate, House Ag Committee Chairman Speak at Kansas State Fair, Address Farm Issues

Senate Ag Committee Chairman Pat Roberts (R., Kans.) and House Ag Committee Chairman Mike Conaway (R., Tex.) spoke at an agricultural forum at the Kansas State Fair in Hutchinson on Saturday.

Kelly Lenz and Greg Akagi, farm broadcasters for WIBW radio, moderated the forum, and Dr. Allen Featherstone of Kansas State University also joined the two lawmakers on the panel to address questions.

Mr. Lenz began the discussion by asking the panel about a recent report from the Heritage foundation regarding federal agricultural policy.  The report noted in part that, “Title I commodity programs should be eliminated, except for the Permanent Disaster Assistance Programs and the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP). This means getting rid of programs such as the Agricultural Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage programs, the sugar program, and the dairy program.”

Chairman Roberts assured the crowd at the Kansas State Fair that the recommendations in the Heritage report were “not going to happen.”

Chairman Conaway expounded more generally on the ultimate goal of federal farm policy: To provide citizens with safe, abundant and affordable food.

The Texas lawmaker noted that many citizens don’t realize the good deal they are getting when it comes to affordable food and the costs of federal farm programs.  On average Americans spend 9.8% of disposable income on food.

Chairman Conway pointed out that the folks at Heritage making these proposed changes to policy are typically in the high-income bracket of society and “they don’t care what food costs;” the House Chairman added that, “what I care about is the folks at the bottom 20% of the economic food chain, it’s not 9.8% of their disposable income, they are paying 30-35% of their disposable income for food.”

Before embarking on changes to federal agricultural policies, Chairman Conaway said that he wanted “to know what it does to the cost of food.”  He added that “we have 45 million Americans on food stamps [SNAP],” when he analyses farm policies he thinks in terms of what we are getting in return for government investment- and current policies are working, “there is no denying that,” he said.

In response to a question about the current environment of low commodity prices, which is a challenge for producers, Chairman Roberts indicated that, “We are in a lot better shape than we were in the 1980s, more especially with equity and credit.”

Chairman Conaway noted that low prices have spurred calls for re-opening the Farm Bill and for consideration of ad hoc disaster assistance; he indicated that “we are going to be very resistant to that.”  Similarly, Chairman Roberts pointed out there could be a risk of losing more than could potentially be gained if the Farm Bill was opened back up.

Concern about excessive regulatory influences in the agricultural sector was also an issue that came up at Saturday’s forum.  Actions and policies by the Environmental Protection Agency were mentioned as were the negative impacts the Dodd-Frank legislation has had on the rural lending environment.

Chairman Roberts stated that, “I would repeal Dodd-Frank if we had the votes.  Dodd-Frank was supposed to address the big banks– boy it sure is hurting our small community banks.”

He added that a hometown banker now “has to spend more time, hire more people to fill out more forms on paper work that they don’t need, than ever before.”

“We are at a crisis point with over regulation,” the Kansas lawmaker said.

The two Chairman addressed trade issues and noted that expanded trade opportunities, including the Trans Pacific Partnership (TPP), are very important to agriculture.  Chairman Conway added that for agriculture, the TPP looks like a very good deal on balance.

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