By Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa
Last month, I completed my annual 99 county meetings for the 38th year in a row. At almost every one of those meetings, Iowans asked about the progress Congress is making on a new Farm Bill. The challenges surrounding international trade have created uncertainty, especially for farmers in Iowa and throughout rural America. Considering crop prices were already low, especially for corn and soybeans, uneasiness over access to markets is understandable. That’s why passing a Farm Bill this Congress is more important than ever.
Different versions of the Farm Bill have been passed by the United States Senate and House of Representatives. To reconcile these differences, the bill is now in what’s called a conference committee. Members from both the House and Senate come together to negotiate the details of a final bill. I’m not a member of the conference committee, but I’m actively engaged in the process and regularly speaking with members participating in negotiations. From those conversations, it’s becoming clear that a deal hasn’t been made. To say that it’s disappointing is to drastically understate my frustration and the frustrations of every farmer and agricultural worker who is depending on a new Farm Bill to deliver a small sense of security during uncertain times.
Congress has had two years to craft a new Farm Bill. Throughout the process, members in the House and the Senate have been keenly aware of the priorities of the other, which begs the question: Why haven’t there been more efforts to find compromise in anticipation of a difficult negotiation? The substantive policies put forward by the Senate give farmers certainty and also make fiscally responsible reforms to bloated programs that can disadvantage young, beginning and small farmers while letting others game the system. My payment limitation amendment is one example where the Senate bill improves farm programs.
I’ve been an outspoken advocate for real and enforceable limits for farm subsidies for years. Right now, 10 percent of farmers get more than 70 percent of Farm Bill payments. Programs in the Farm Bill are meant to provide temporary assistance in times of need, not unlimited subsidies.
My payment limit amendment would be a key contributor to reducing the amount of wasted subsidy payments that go to the largest farmers. Specifically, it would fix a flagrant loophole in the current Farm Bill that allows people who don’t work on farms to get significant amounts of taxpayer funds they don’t need. This common-sense reform passed both the House and Senate during the last Farm Bill debate in 2014 but was killed in the conference committee. The current conference committee should leave my common-sense reforms in the final bill. The reforms focus assistance to those who truly need help, which makes farm programs overall more defensible. Farmers who are worth tens of millions of dollars shouldn’t be able to expect unlimited support from taxpayers for their operations.
The Senate version of the 2018 Farm Bill also includes reforms to the Conservation Reserve Program, known as CRP. The program’s purpose is to reduce land erosion, improve water quality and help wildlife populations, but over the years it has strayed from its intended focus on environmentally sensitive land. Some landowners have been receiving more than $300 per acre to enroll their entire farms in CRP. That puts young and beginning farmers at a competitive disadvantage. In fact, even well-established farmers have had rented land taken away from them because it was enrolled in the program at lucrative rates. Farmers can’t and shouldn’t have to compete with the government, especially with the current debt our country has. The Senate reforms to CRP must be included in the final 2018 Farm Bill.
Reforms to payment limits and CRP have been two of my top Farm Bill priorities. They help farmers and reduce the taxpayer burden, yet they remain points of contention during conference committee negotiations. In light of the many challenges facing our nation during an increasingly difficult political environment, the Farm Bill should be and needs to be one piece of legislation Congress can come to the table on. If negotiators can’t find a way to compromise and pass sensible reforms in a new Farm Bill, it will expose a severe lack of leadership in Congress and show that congressional leaders aren’t serious about truly working on behalf of the people.
Rural America needs a Farm Bill that will provide farmers and agricultural workers security through rapidly changing trade negotiations and unexpected market shifts. It's past due that Congress step up to the plate and pass substantive reforms that will simultaneously help Rural America and taxpayers.