Uncertainty growing over Farm Bill's status
With a depressed farm economy already hurting their prospects, many local growers and producers would have welcomed passage of the 2018 Farm Bill. Instead, the House of Representatives voted it down last week. Steve Ammerman of the New York Farm Bureau says his agency is "disappointed" by the rejection which was fueled by a conflicting assortment of political priorities.
The contentious immigration debate hurt the Farm Bill's chances, Ammerman says. It's an issue that needs resolution. Farmers in New York and elsewhere have come to rely on immigrant workers for seasonal and year-round help.
"Finding local folks who want to go out harvest vegetables and milk cows is more difficult in today's world," Ammerman said.
"We found a lot of migrant workers are skilled in farming in their own countries and are interested in coming here to work and make a better living for themselves and their families."
Another part of the Farm Bill, the SNAP program which provides food to low-income families, is also a political target. Some lawmakers are seeking cuts to the program and a change in eligibility requirements.
"This (the farm bill) sets farm policy for the next five years," Ammerman said. Struggling farmers and growers look to the legislation for a sense of certainty that allows them to plan ahead.
The bill also addressed other issues of concern for the agricultural community like "conservation programs. Crop insurance initiatives. A whole host of things, even rural broadband and rural economic development issues."
Farm Bureau officials also hoped an approved bill would have created a more reliable dairy revenue protection program, something Ammerman maintains is of necessity in this region.
"Low milk prices are one of the main factors (of a depressed farm economy), at least here in New York. Supply is up, demand is down, is probably the simplest way to look at it," Ammerman said.
"And when we talk about demand it's not just at the local level, or fluid milk consumption is down, but on the world export markets, we're seeing a drop in where U.S. milk is going."
The current Farm Bill expires in September.