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home : news : news Saturday, April 30, 2016

11/13/2013 Email this articlePrint this article 
Loebsack 'hopeful' on passage of combined farm bill

By Jeremy Huss
Staff writer

Iowa 2nd Congressional District Rep. Dave Loebsack (D) told members of the Clinton County Farm Bureau last week he's not ready to make predictions but is "hopeful" Congress will act soon to pass a farm bill that includes funding for both crop insurance and food assistance.

Loebsack, who met with eight area farmers Nov. 6 as part of the "Investing in Rural Iowa Tour," said it's equally important Congress approve other sections of the farm bill that fund energy research and the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) rural development program, which includes rural broadband initiatives and funding for infrastructure in small communities.

"I think rural development encompasses a whole lot of things, including broadband. It's one thing to be hooked up to the Internet, but it doesn't tell you the quality and speed of the connection," Loebsack said.

There are companies that want to locate in Iowa, "but they need the bandwidth. Without it, it's a problem," Loebsack said.

Loebsack, who crossed party lines in 2012 to vote for an unsuccessful farm bill proposal that included $21.5 billion in cuts to the food stamp program, criticized "Tea Party Republicans" for attempting to separate the crop insurance portion of the farm bill from the supplemental nutrition assistance program (SNAP), also known as food stamps.

"Not only do they want to cut food stamps, they want to end crop insurance subsidies," he said.

Loebsack said he's working to keep the farm and food assistance portions together in a long-term bill.

"If we keep the bill together and pass it, I doubt the problem will return in five years," he said.

Farm Bureau president Joe Dierickx said it's important the nutrition and farm components of the bill stay together in order to get a coalition that can address both rural and urban interests. He thanked Loebsack for his earlier support and said the bureau opposes the effort to separate the components.

King amendment

Dierickx asked about the Congressman's position on an amendment from Iowa Rep. Steve King that would prevent states from imposing standards on agricultural products produced in another state, such as an effort in California to ban gestation crates in egg production.

"Iowa produces 10 percent of the eggs in the nation. If California doesn't want eggs raised in a certain way, Iowa will lose out," Dierickx said.

Loebsack said he hasn't taken a position yet and is gathering input from constituents, but he is concerned about the implication to states rights if the federal government prevents them from enacting local regulations.

"It'd be different if shipping eggs to California was unsafe. It's not. It's a lifestyle decision," Dierickx said, adding not everyone can afford free-range chicken.

"If we care about poor people, we really have to get them an affordable product," he said.

Loebsack said there is a 98 percent chance he'll vote for whatever farm bill comes out of a House and Senate conference committee.

"In the end, I could support the King amendment," he stated.

"Our interest is, our eggs are all corn (fed)," said Bob Bowman, a DeWitt-area farmer and president of the Iowa Corn Promotion Board.

Crop insurance program

Farmer Curt Allen said the crop insurance portion of the Farm Bill reduces food costs for everyone and helps smaller producers stay afloat through bad years.

"Without crop insurance, we would have had major consolidation last year. To take that away would be devastating to the farm economy, I think," Allen said.

"There seems to be a perception we get it for free. We all pay a substantial amount of money into the crop insurance program," Dierickx added.

"It'll be tough to come up with a combined five-year farm bill with our over-riding budget issues. Everyone's in a cost-cutting mode in D.C., because that's what people are telling us to do," Loebsack said.

Dierickx said people forget the crop insurance component was created to replace ad-hoc payment to farmers that Congress would allocate 18 months after a disaster, which was too late to keep farmers in business.

Crop insurance costs less and allows farmers to respond to disasters when they occur, Dierickx said.

Dustin Johnson, who farms south of Andover, asked why more House Democrats didn't vote for the 2012 farm bill given their support for SNAP.

"What do we need to do to get them on board?" Johnson asked.

Loebsack said concerns over SNAP cuts were the driving force, and he noted the Senate version of the bill called for $4.5 billion in cuts, compared to $21.5 billion in the House version.

Loebsack said he grew up on food stamps with a young mother who suffered from mental illness, "So I'm concerned about those massive cuts, but I voted for the bill."

He criticized Republicans who have increased the proposed SNAP cuts to $39 billion after the version with $21.5 billion in cuts failed to win enough votes to pass.

"That's not how you get to compromise," Loebsack said.

Keith Dexter of Lost Nation said the $21.5 billion cut sounds like a lot but is only around 5 percent of the overall SNAP funding.

Research funding needed

Bowman said agricultural research, foreign market development and renewable fuel standards are additional reasons to support the farm bill.

The research title funded the mapping of the corn genome, Bowman said, and foreign market development helps grow farm exports.

He advocated for a "market-based" farm bill that avoids setting target prices for commodities.

Maintaining the renewable fuels standard also is important as the corn supply grows and prices fall, Bowman said, noting corn currently is priced around $4 per bushel, down from $7 per bushel.

"That could push us to an 18 percent carryover without the renewable fuel standard. The last time that happened, we had $1.50 corn," Bowman said.

He noted overall yields have remained high despite wide field variety and two years of unusual weather.

"If we had a good year of weather, how much grain would we have here? There's a danger of oversupply that would hurt farmers," he said.

Loebsack said there is "mixed evidence" on the impact of ethanol, but he supports the renewable fuel standard as a way to reduce foreign oil dependence.

"I keep fighting for this. I'm one of the champions in the House for the renewable fuel standard," he said.

Bowman said the renewable fuel standard improves air quality and saves consumers money at the gas pump.

"We know big oil wants to squash and take over the ethanol plants, but more people are buying the negative arguments," Loebsack said.

Lock-and-dam system

As he did during an Aug. 27 visit, Loebsack reiterated his support for public/private partnerships to fund maintenance and improvement of the lock-and-dam system that is essential for transporting grain and fertilizer.

Party leaders are in the process of appointing conferees to work out differences in the 2013 Water Resource Reform and Development Act (WRRDA), Loebsack noted.

Improvements to the Panama Canal that allow larger ships to transport more grain through South America is a major concern, he said.

"There's no question this is the time to do something so we don't have a catastrophe," Loebsack said.

"Given the budget situation, given the problems we face right now, even if we get a bill passed, it's highly unlikely the Feds can fund all of this. That's why public/private partnerships are important," he stated.

Bowman said a fuel tax increase would also help, while Dierickx asked if legislation will allow partnerships with foreign businesses, such as China companies.

"I don't think that's a good idea. China has enough of our debt and our country. I'm OK with foreign investment, but infrastructure is a strategic investment," Loebsack said.

Dierickx pointed out the lock-and-dam system was important for the nation's imports as well as exports this year, with soybean stock and corn for ethanol being imported, as well as phosphorus and potassium fertilizer.

Dierickx thanked Loebsack for "sticking your neck out" to support the farm bill despite objections in the Democratic party.

Loebsack said his goal is "to do what's right for the state and the district."

Dierickx said Congress should take a cue from Iowa, which has shown opposing parties can do a better job working together when they're not fighting over spending priorities.

Johnson said farmers are willing to make concessions if other stakeholders will do the same.

"We as farmers are willing to make some sacrifices, but we don't want to be the only ones on the chopping block," he said.

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