What is in this article?:
- Farm program passage not the end of the struggle
- Continued conflict
The battle for a farm safety net is not over, says retired U.S. Congressman and former Agriculture Committee Chairman Larry Combest.
Combest said in 2012 he “felt confident” that a new bill would be forthcoming. “But the Senate bill was dramatically different. They said the final bill would be written in conference.”
The House did not act until 2013 and then voted down one bill last spring and then split nutrition and commodity titles to gain enough support to pass a commodity title in the House. The two titles were reunited in conference and finally passed in February.
Combest said compromise was a difficult goal. “Everyone understands that politics is parochial. Politicians look after their constituents’ interests. But there comes a time when we have to understand that to keep your constituents happy you have to make other politicians’ constituents happy too.”
He said agriculture interests were fragmented as well. “Ag interests began to separate, more so than during any farm bill in a long time.” A lot of that fragmentation, he said, came from the Midwest where farm practices are not the same as they are in the South, and particularly in the arid Southwest.
“The goal is to develop a farm bill umbrella that everyone can get under. This time, groups began to separate and that was not helpful.”
He added that efforts from Texas A&M in developing data about the costs and benefits of various program options were critical. “Without the data from A&M it would have been extremely difficult,” he said. “Many people have no idea of the impact of these analyses.”
He said thorough analysis gets around the possibility of leaders telling people just what they want to hear instead of “what they need. Joe Outlaw (Texas AgriLife economist) and others provided the facts.” He said the analyses allowed producers to consider: “If I do this what will the result be?”
Combest also praised commodity associations for their patience and support.
“And I was extremely pleased with Secretary Vilsack’s leadership throughout the farm bill process. I can’t give enough credit to the Secretary and his staff.”
He encouraged farm groups to begin coalescing again, developing the typical united front that’s common with farm program debates and also to be patient with the Farm Service Agency as it completes the task of writing the rules necessary to implement the new farm program.
“I understand the challenge facing FSA. Farm bill meetings have been helpful and got people thinking and answered some of their questions.”
A lot more questions remain and a lot more work will be required to implement the program. And continued vigilance may be necessary to keep it.