The week of August 22, U.S. Representatives Cheri Bustos (D-IL) and Marcy Kaptur (D-OH) joined the House Agriculture Committee and held a listening session in Fremont, Ohio. More than 200 members of the public participated in the session in person or online.
Crop Insurance Reform
One of the prominent topics was crop insurance. While some major commodity groups repeat a refrain often heard during the 2018 Farm Bill discussions, “Don’t touch crop insurance,” sentiments may have shifted a bit since then. President of the Ohio Farmers Union and organic farmer Joe Logan reiterated the importance of the crop insurance program and talked about the need to “…reconfigure it in a way that rewards farmers for building soil health.”
OEFFA organic farmer Eli Dean also spoke to the committee on the subject, noting that policies are put in place for all other USDA subsidy programs that do “means testing,” or making sure that benefits are not just going to the wealthy few, but that is not the case for crop insurance. For farmers who receive crop insurance coverage, taxpayers cover an average of 62 percent of the cost of each policy, and that holds regardless of how much money a farmer makes.
Eli said that crop insurance is his favorite program, it works really well and there are adjustments that need to be made. Eli suggested there should be limits put in place so the largest farmers don’t continue expanding and the small- to mid-scale farms are not able to compete. According to Eli, “…as a taxpayer, it makes sense that our tax dollars don’t go to the richest one percent of farms”
The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition (NSAC) recently published an Economic Analysis of Payment Caps on Crop Insurance Subsidies. This report’s introduction noted a recent study found the largest 10 percent of farms received over 60 percent of all subsidy benefit. NSAC analyzed five different options for placing “caps,” or limits on the amount of subsidies farmers can receive, and one of those options presented (limiting all discounts of crop insurance cost to $50,000) would affect about 3 percent of farms and result in a 26 percent ($16.6 billion) savings. This is a clear illustration we can make this important risk management tool more equitable and cost effective while protecting about 97 percent of farmers using the program.
Climate Change Solutions
Tony Logan, former USDA Ohio State Director for Rural Development, spoke to the need for clear standards when it comes to measuring the amount of carbon farmers are able to store in the soil. As the USDA looks to incentivize practices that encourage minimization of greenhouse gases and/or sequestration of carbon, there needs to be a clear and accurate initial baseline and an effective, science-based measurement for progress over time.
Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations
Vicki Askins, a member of the Ohio Farmers Union and Lake Erie Advocates, asked that a temporary moratorium on Concentrated Animal Feeding Operations (CAFOs) be instituted to protect water quality in Lake Erie. While manure digesters are sometimes sought as a solution to CAFO waste generation, Vicki stated that they are expensive, and the government should not be subsidizing the cost for large operations.
Local and Regional Food Systems
Kristy Buskirk, a farmer from Clay Hill Organic Farm, talked about selling into local and regional markets. In their ninth season as first generation farmers, they have experienced extreme weather events. With OEFFA’s 2023 Farm Bill platform in hand, Kristy talked about the need for increased investment in local and regional food systems, specifically in flash freezing infrastructure. The Ohio produce calendar and the school calendar don’t line up. Because most school kitchens are heat and serve, regional facilities that do minimal processing and freeze produce for later use would help farmers get into institutional markets such as farm to school.
Angela Huffman with Farm Action received a standing ovation as she spoke about the presence of endless rows of corn and soybeans, but not food for people to eat. She also conveyed the issues of food security as national security, synthetics and contamination of our soil and our bodies, and the crisis of corporate consolidation in food and agricultural markets. Angela closed by saying we need to focus more on food and less on feed, and to expand crop insurance for diversification and organics.
Fixing a Broken Food System
Commenters had two to three minutes to share their thoughts, which is a challenge, but others hit home in that very tight time frame.
Bob Jones of Chef’s Garden said, “…we have the largest spending of any nation on health care, the smallest spending on food, and there is a direct connection.” According to him, food and agriculture are broken; people are begging for more money for insurance and subsidies while people are obese, sick, and dying. He talked about those who grow fruits and vegetables, known as specialty crops in USDA parlance, as the tick on the end of the tail on the end of the dog when it comes to spending.
It is clear from this snapshot of two hours of farm bill testimony that some people want things to stay the same. There is, however, a growing chorus of people advocating for change. Between a climate threatening the viability of farming in many areas of the country, the increasing consolidation of farming and food processing benefiting very few at the expense of thousands of small farmers and rural communities, increasing public health concerns directly relating to the food system or environmental crises, we can’t wait another five to ten years to get started.
Now is the time. Join us today as we build the campaign for change.