Ohio Farm Bureau Federation (OFBF) President Steve Hirsch recently hosted Sen. Sherrod Brown on his farm for a roundtable listening session on the upcoming farm bill.
The event was part of Brown’s “Grown in Ohio” listening tour that he announced to county Farm Bureau presidents during their annual trip to Washington earlier this year.
The meeting included a cross section of Ohio agriculture, from specialty crop farmers to livestock, dairy and grain farmers.
During an on-farm recording of Ohio Farm Bureau’s radio show , Brown said he wants to hear from farmers in all parts of the state about how farm bill programs impact them.
“What do you want to see in the farm bill, how do we do rural development, how do we deal with the safety net, how do we make sure Ohio farmers in times of low prices or catastrophic weather – bad yields for whatever reason – how do we make sure farmers can stay in business for the next year or until they can get back on their feet,” he asked. At the meeting, several farmers highlighted the importance of risk management tools to their businesses.
“We heard that whether you were a young farmer, an organic farmer or a large row crop farmer,” said Keith Stimpert, OFBF senior vice president of public policy. “I think that’s important, and maybe some solutions will come out of that as we move forward with the farm bill discussion.”
Brown said one of the ways to keep young people in Ohio is by allowing them to make a decent living by staying on the farm.
“It’s good for the environment, it’s good for land use, it’s good for the prosperity of our state, and it’s good for grandparents to get to see their children,” he said.
Another point of consideration was the fact that the majority of farm bill spending goes to food programs, not to farmers directly.
“One helps the other,” Brown said of both components of the bill. “And that’s important for all of our prosperity that we can take care of people that are hungry, take care of our kids in schools. At the same time it will help make farmers more prosperous.”
For example, providing more nutritious food through school lunch programs could also help local farmers.
“Unfortunately, it’s there as a challenge, but it presents us a tremendous opportunity to expand local production,” Stimpert said.
Brown called farmers “a pretty independent lot,” but said they do need some government partnership to counter factors beyond their control such as low prices and bad weather.
“If farmers have two or three years in a row of that then they’re out of business and that’s a national security issue, ultimately,” he said.
At the same time, farmers recognize the next farm bill is being written in a time of significant government debt and deficit.
One way Brown believes the government could save money is by streamlining conservation programs.
“But we can’t eliminate these programs. They matter too much to agriculture and to our own prosperity,” he said.Stimpert noted the importance of promoting conservation on working lands as world population continues to grow.
“We’re going to need to think about increasing agricultural productivity, and we’ve got to stay away from retirement-type programs (that take land out of production),” he said.
Brown argues that conservation programs provide a public benefit, and that they’re ultimately good for agriculture, because farmland stays in better condition. In addition, he said agricultural research will be important in meeting demands for food.
“We’re going to need to feed a lot more people 20 years from now than today, and we’re feeding internationally today a lot more than 50 years ago,” he said. “And that means more productive farmland and more productive farmers.”