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Ag policy needs solid footing

Getty/iStockphoto A tale of two times book illustration
DRAWING PARALLELS: Just like the scenario Charles Dickens described in the book "A Tale of Two Cities," farmers are currently faced with both the best of times and the worst of times in the ag industry.
Colorado farmer shares with House Agriculture Republicans about the ongoing policy whiplash.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness,” Charles Dickens famously wrote.

While recently speaking before a forum for Republican House Agriculture Committee members, Colorado fifth-generation farmer James Henderson says Dickens’ famous phrase really encapsulates how farmers feel today, especially as they think about agriculture policy and look at the context of what has happened in recent years.

Just a few years ago, the U.S. entered into a trade war with China and saw some pretty significant market disruptions and retaliatory tariffs. Then Henderson shares the Market Facilitation Program propped farmers back up for a bit. The trade war did eventually lead to the signing of Phase One, which was “huge for American agriculture,” and the signing of the U.S. Mexico Canada Agreement that was negotiated and offered another great victory for farmers.

The victories were unfortunately followed by a global pandemic with COVID that required the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program to offer help to farmers. “As somebody who sold my calves in March 2020, I can tell you how important programs like CFAP were to keeping our farm whole,” he shares.

But now the next challenge facing farmers is the realization that supply chains are falling apart and farmers are met with huge inflation and soaring costs of inputs. Add in global juggernauts of grain production go to war with each other and farmers again are seeking solid footing.

“All of these things really kind of come together and play on our psyche,” Henderson laments. “In the moment we’re at, yes, it’s a great time to see some of our commodity prices have increased significantly, but the cost of producing these crops have gone up significantly with having a hard time getting everything from baling twine to parts.”

So as farmers are faced with the best of times and the worst of times, Henderson asked legislators: “Make sure that we’re setting ourselves up for success to create a solid footing for the American farmer to stand on and make sure that we’re not putting policy stumbling blocks in place,” whether from Congress as well as the agencies.

Henderson shares some of his greatest concerns, including the handling of the definition of the waters of the U.S. by the Environmental Protection Agency, rising costs of fuel and challenges of securing labor.

He’s been sharing his message. He fortunately was recently able to help offer a visualization during a roundtable discussion with EPA and Army Corps officials as his pickup truck was in a dry creek bed that could potentially be considered a navigable water despite there not being a drop of water in it.

Inflation and rising fuel costs are hitting every consumer, but farmers feel the hit even more. Henderson explains diesel costs are up 115% year-over-year. “When I have to fill my 180-gallon tank for my tractor that burns seven to 10 gallons an hour, that’s $900 a fill-up,” he says. “Imagine combines that are harvesting wheat across this country right now with a 330-gallon tank costing about $1,600 to $1,700 to fill.

“Those impacts are significant and really affecting the bottom line,” Henderson says. “It’s absolutely ridiculous when we know that we can be energy independent as a country.”

Henderson also touched on the need to preserve stepped-up basis in the potential transitioning of his farm from his mother to his generation and the challenges of securing labor.

“This year we weren’t able to find enough labor to irrigate and get all of our crops in. So, we have ground that was fallow because of lack of labor. And it’s something that going to have to be addressed. It’s really, I think, at a crisis level in this country,” Henderson states.

“These are just a few of the policy stumbling blocks that I see from my side that need to be addressed so that we can set the American farmer up for success,” Henderson says.

Other members discussed during the forum the challenges in the fertilizer market, actions and lawsuits limiting crop protection tools and what needs to be done to keep farmers in business.

“But I think the bottom line is this administration is declaring war on American agriculture and American energy,” says House Agriculture Committee member David Rouzer, R-N.C. “And we've got to figure out how to survive the next two years. We'll see what happens with the elections in November. We have a farm bill that'd be reauthorized and rewritten next year. Farmers have to be able to cash flow if they're going to survive, to fight the next day”

Many pundits believe the House will flip to Republican this fall. As a changing guard heads into the next farm bill debate, House Agriculture Republicans continue to sound the alarm on rising fuel costs, the impact of regulatory uncertainty and the need to keep farmers in business. But it will take members from both sides to find a way to get farmers back on more stable ground.


TAGS: Farm Policy
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