Farm bill programs discussed at MU Farm Bill Summit
COLUMBIA, Mo. -- Farm bill programs received fresh looks and reality checks during daylong discussions at a Missouri Farm Bill Summit on Wednesday at University of Missouri Bradford Farm.
A new farm bill, due in 2018, needs input from Missourians, according to Scott Brown, MU economist and event organizer.
"We look at what works and what needs change," Brown said.
The day opened with economic outlooks on crop and livestock sides of the economy. Pat Westhoff, director of the MU Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute (FAPRI) showed volatility brought by the drought of 2012. Farm prices plunged and then soared. Current outlook shows declining farm income.
Farm bills provide safety nets for farmers.
Brown noted the volatility in meat and dairy sectors. However, growing demand from foreign buyers, particularly for quality, adds stability.
Both economists told of needs for support, insurance and risk management in farm programs.
The broad impact isn't assistance for farmers but assurance of a constant, plentiful, safe food supply for all.
Outlooks remain uncertain from weather, disease and unforeseen risks. Government supports remain needed in the next farm bill, which covers the next multiyear law.
Many speakers reframed talk about the farm bill. It's not just for farmers. "When rural areas thrive, the state of Missouri thrives," said Marshall Stewart, director of MU Extension. Much in the farm bill concerns education. It supports the land-grant universities, which cover teaching, research and extension.
In a welcome at noon, MU Chancellor Alexander Cartwright, on the job just over two months, expanded on the education role. MU reaches all counties in the state. He told his new insight: "We are the University FOR Missouri."
Elected officials took part in the event, a listening session.
Rep. Vicky Hartzler, R-Harrisonville, moderated panel discussions and took a tablet full of notes. She is Missouri's representative on the House Agriculture Committee, which already holds hearings on the 2018 farm bill.
Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., spoke by video. He said Missouri's location puts it in prime position in the U.S. economy. He noted the benefit of that location for the nation. He added the need for infrastructure aid.
Legislators noted inputs from MU policy analysts in previous farm bills.
Farm groups were included in roundtable talks on crops and livestock. They were joined by representatives from both rural development and conservation.
Reality checks popped up in funding talks. The federal budget now in Congress affects all farm bill programs. Also, issues hashed out in the House and Senate must then be signed by the president. Delays can happen.
A theme in all panels was need for citizen input. "What's working and what's not?" they asked. A lot can be left unchanged.
Talks ranged beyond down-on-the-farm issues. Needs for infrastructure, from broadband internet to highway networks, were noted. Those help farm markets but also aid consumers.
On conservation, the necessity of grasslands to protect soil and water was noted. Conservation Reserve Program acreage dropped sharply in recent years. Conservationists noted that with their soil, water and natural resources, farmers are front-line environmentalists.
Discussions were based on a system used years ago in MU Breimyer Conferences. Specialists talk and then attendees ask questions.
One questioner doubted need for welfare food plans. Consensus of panelists was that without the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, there would be no farm bill. A rural-urban divide applies in farm-bill politics.
"The discussion has begun," Brown said. "Citizens have the ear of elected officials in Washington."