Spring is in the air and focus is on the start of a new season. This spring is also the time to begin to focus on the 2018 farm bill.
Behind the excitement of a new growing season is the reality that net farm income has dropped by 46 percent over the past 3 years. This drop is the greatest drop since the Great Depression.
The 2018 farm bill may be the most important farm bill for many farmers in their entire time on the farm. The last few farm bills have been written in more prosperous farm price times, and designers of the most recent farm bills reflected less safety net features and great thoughts of reducing USDA expenditures to protect farmers. We presently have farm bill hangover issues that are not meeting the needs of dairy farmers, cotton producers, and are causing confusion among grain producers.
Can a farm bill be written to meet the needs of producers? Can the farm bill be transparent and easy for producers to understand? Can the farm bill meet the concerns of agribusiness, environmentalists, exporters, food processors, and consumers? Are there enough funds to meet the needs of all interested parties? Should we continue to privatize profits and socialize the losses? There are many questions requiring answers.
I suggest a few steps that may make it easier for producers. The steps include engagement, education, and execution. Producers need to be involved in getting their needs put into the farm bill. Without producer involvement there are others that will write the farm bill. Getting engaged requires time. Make the most of your time by learning the process, deciding what is important to you, and developing a plan to get the most out of your time. Engagement could be letter writing, sending emails, testifying, attending listening sessions, making phone calls or a combination of events. Time is a limited resource, and planning and prioritizing your involvement is important.
Educating yourself is important. How do I effectively communicate my needs to those involved in writing the farm bill? How do I let my congressional representative and senator know what is really important, why it is important, how it will benefit others too, what are the costs of not getting this need into the farm bill? Research is important, and targeting that need is important as you educate your elected representatives. Elected representatives need to know what you need; but their time is limited and others are demanding their time and attention. Letters, emails, testifying needs to be concise. Remember, many representatives do not understand your business, your needs, and the issues as you see them in your business setting.
One example of not being prepared and clear on needs is the recent budget hearing for the Wisconsin State budget I attended in Chippewa Falls. Several speakers droned on and on about a wide assortment of topics. When they completed their presentation, most in the room were wondering if the speaker had nothing more to do in life than read a string of printed news releases from many special interests groups. A public reading of a child’s Christmas list may have been less painful and much clearer for the elected state representatives chairing the meeting and the others in attendance. It is important to be clear, targeted on your needs, provide a solution, and be thankful for the chance to express your issue.
Execution of your plan to be part of the 2018 Farm Bill debate is very important. How much time do I have to invest in this activity? Do I have the time to research, organize my thoughts, and determine the right channels to get my thoughts to those that need to hear what I have to express? Many individuals complain, but few really take the time to get involved. Execution takes time, energy, and the desire to do more than sit on the sidelines and take what comes down after the decisions are made.
For many producers that belong to farm organizations it is important to participate in what the organization has to offer in getting involved.
Now is the time to get engaged in the farm bill process. Educate yourself and others on the issues and possible solutions. Execute your plan over the next year.
Bob Panzer farms in Chippewa County, WI and is a retired lender that offers farm management consulting in the Midwest and Great Plains regions. He may be contacted at 920-539-8728.