Local farmers gather for discussion on farm bill

8:00 a.m. Sunday, Feb. 25, 2018 Community News
Staff from U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown’s office met with Champaign County farmers Thursday afternoon to discuss the latest version of the farm bill and what should be included. Bill Lackey/Staff

A handful of Champaign County farmers expressed concerns over crop insurance, conservation programs and other issues as negotiations speed up toward the latest version of the federal farm bill.

The most recent farm bill, also known as the Agricultural Act of 2014, is a multiyear bill that covers a wide range of topics from agricultural conservation to farm credit and nutrition assistance. The latest bill is set to expire on Sept. 30 this year, said Jonathan McCracken, a policy advisor to U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio.

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McCracken spent about an hour listening as local residents provided input about the challenges Champaign County farmers are facing.

Michael Pullins, whose family operates the Champaign Berry Farm outside mutual, said his biggest concern heading into the latest farm bill is ensuring adequate funding and support is available for federal crop insurance. Pullins, whose family also raises a variety of other crops, said the program is an important safety net for farmers nationwide. He argued the program is also a better investment for government than paying for relief efforts in case of a disaster as well.

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“It’s a good, integrated safety net,” Pullins said.

The last farm bill was estimated to cover about $490 billion over five years, according to information from the Congressional Budget Office. Of that, about 80 percent of spending supports the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, according to the Congressional Research Service.

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McCracken said Brown’s office has visited between 20 to 25 counties across the state so far. Brown is serving on the Senate Agriculture Committee and helping write the 2018 Farm Bill. Thursday’s meeting was part of a series of discussions statewide to gather input about local concerns about the legislation.

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McCracken said farmers he’s spoken to have raised issues from improving conservation programs contained in the bill to looking for ways to more effectively promote specialty crops. Many farmers said they want continued support for conservation programs, but they aren’t always cost-effective, he said.

“We’ve heard that a lot from farmers, that they want to protect water quality but they want the programs to work for them,” McCracken said.