When Congress gets back to work after the Labor Day holiday, re-upping the farm bill is one many hope can be done in a bipartisan manner. The current law, which funds a wide range of programs including food stamps, farmers subsidies, rural development and agricultural research, expires in 2018.
Traditionally, the farm bill has skirted the worst of partisan politics, but vacancies at the top of the Agriculture Department mean fewer leaders working on it this time around.
“We are proceeding regardless of that,” says Michigan Sen. Debbie Stabenow, the agriculture committee’s top Democrat. “Sen. [Pat] Roberts and I work very much as a team and intend to move in a very methodical way to bring forward a farm bill in the Senate.”
Kansas Sen. Pat Roberts is the chair of the senate committee.
Throughout the summer, elected officials, farm groups and even USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue have held Farm Bill “listening sessions” to gather farmers’ concerns.
At a session sponsored by the Iowa Farmers Union in Orient, Steve Carlson of Practical Farmers of Iowa expressed support for sustainable agriculture research and for the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program.
“There’s about to be a major land transfer taking place with the average age of Iowa farmers getting older,” Carlson says, “so we want to see more young farmers starting out successfully.”
Practical Farmers has distributed funding from the national program to new producers launching businesses here in Iowa.
One of the farmers in attendance, Denny Winterboer, from northwest Iowa, says he wants Congress to use the Farm Bill to make adjustments to seed labeling rules.
“The federal seed act needs to be amended to where farmers have the right to know what the actual variety is before we purchase,” Winterboer says. He’s concerned because he says the presale information focuses on the traits and characteristics of a hybrid but stops short of identifying its variety.
Senate leaders say their farm bill could be completed by the end of this calendar year.