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Farm Bill Needs Are Many

A new idea for the farm bill — a short-term version of the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) that would pay farmers for idling land three to five years — drew mixed reactions from a group of farmers and an academic at the 2017 Iowa Ag Summit held in Des Moines, lowa Saturday.

The proposal, offered by Senator John Thune (R-SD), would allow more farmers to temporarily idle less productive land, saving on production costs at a time of low commodity prices.

Gary Wertish, president of Minnesota Farmers Union, said that a short-term increase in CRP acres would do more to help with depressed prices than trade agreements.

“It’s a short-term program, but it would help a lot,” said Wertish.

Craig Lang, part of a Brooklyn, Iowa dairy and cattle farm and past president of Iowa Farm Bureau, said he’s more concerned about the federal deficit and has seen how the CRP hurts cattle farmers who need to find pasture and local businesses that no longer sell farm inputs when land is idled. “I wouldn’t be in favor of increasing the amount,” Lang said of the CRP program, which is currently limited to 24 million acres nationally under the existing farm law. Thune wants to raise the cap to 30 million acres.

All of the farmers on the panel favored keeping other conservation programs strong in the next farm bill.

“I believe that is extremely critical, especially when we are looking at water quality issues,” Lang said.

Craig Uden of Elwood, Nebraska, and president of National Cattleman’s Beef Association, said states might need to have a bigger role in setting standards for conservation programs. He agreed with Lang that the CRP shrinks the tax base for local governments.

A high priority for the cattle organization is getting farm bill funding for a vaccine bank against foot-and-mouth disease, Uden said. If FMD reaches the U.S. from countries that still have the disease, it could cost the U.S. cattle and hog industries $50 billion a year from lost exports, Uden said. NCBA is asking for $150 million a year for the program. “That’s a small price to pay” to avoid those potential losses, he said.

Wendy Wintersteen, dean of the Iowa State University College of Agriculture and Life Sciences, told the meeting that her university and other research institutions are asking for a doubling of funds targeted to research.

When asked where the money is needed, Wintersteen said it’s difficult to prepare for the next food or animal health crisis.

“The list is endless. Foot-and-mouth is a great example,” she said.

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