“Only 2.1 million of our 300-plus million U.S. citizens are farmers, but they and Congress are deciding how half of U.S. land is managed and how food is produced,” said Wisconsin state Sen. Joan Ballweg during a plenary session of the 2021 CSG National Conference.
Ballweg, who serves as the 2021 CSG National Chair, was referring to the federal Farm Bill, the most impactful piece of legislation on agriculture in the U.S. During the session, which was presented by the Intergovernmental Affairs committee, a panel of state agriculture officials discussed the bill, which will be reauthorized in 2023, and its implications for the states.
The session was moderated by Connecticut Deputy House Speaker Kevin Ryan, and panelists included Kentucky Agriculture Commissioner Ryan Quarles, New Mexico Farm and Livestock Bureau President Craig Ogden and Kellie Adesina, director of federal government affairs for Bayer Crop Science.
Adesina walked listeners through the structure of the most recent farm bill. The bill includes 12 titles, but just four of them account for 99% of mandatory funding: Nutrition, Crop Insurance, Commodity Programs and Conservation. Adesina said a new title is likely in the upcoming bill.
“I wouldn’t be surprised if there was a new title in the Farm Bill on climate,” she said. “Many people might think that is something Conservation can address, but I can see it as something being addressed as a standalone. Right now at Bayer, we’re paying farmers to do smart climate practices, and a lot of other companies are doing something similar.”
Ogden, who farms with his son, Joseph, said farmers are currently issues not addressed by the Farm Bill, including rapid inflation, rising input costs and labor shortages.
“Farmers are notorious for doing whatever we need to do to keep our operations going,” Ogden said. “I can fix about anything with baling wire and duct tape. The only problem is, I’m no match for a fault supply chain.”
Quarles said that he expects to see more conservation programs, access to credit for new and beginning farmers and more investment in trade. He also agreed that state agriculture departments should expect to see more conversations around the climate.
“The USDA has been dialed in on climate,” Quarles said. “My opinion is this: regardless of your opinion on the subject, Ag needs a seat at the table. If not at the table, you’re on the menu.”
Another key issue for rural America, Quarles said, is broadband connectivity, and the Farm Bill could provide state leaders with an opportunity complete broadband infrastructure projects.
“Be aware of broadband — having the funds to build out the last mile,” he said. “A lot of states completed the middle mile. But we all know that the last mile of construction is going to be the most expensive. This might be an opportunity, through the Farm Bill, rural development, to finally do what our great-great grandparents did in 1930s to electrify America. It’s your generation’s opportunity to ensure digital access across the United States.”