NCFC strongly supports federal policies which promote, protect, and strengthen the farm bill’s longstanding structure that supports our entire food and fiber chains. Farmer-owned cooperatives are central to America’s abundant, safe, and affordable food, feed, fiber, and fuel supply. Through their cooperatives, farmers can improve their income from the marketplace, manage risk, and strengthen their bargaining power, allowing individual producers to compete globally in a way that would be impossible to replicate as individual producers.
A strong farm bill supports our farmers and ranchers, feeds our nation and those who have fallen on tough times, protects our vital natural resources, and brings both urban cities and rural communities together. This strong collaboration is critical to the success of the farm bill.
As was the case with the 2018 farm bill, the upcoming farm bill debate will be presented with the challenge to be fiscally responsible. Farmer co-ops are mindful of this challenge. At the same time, it is imperative that Congress recognize the continued importance of farm bill policies that promote a healthy and competitive U.S. agricultural sector. Our farmer-owners need a responsive safety net, together with adequate funding, that incorporates improved, comprehensive risk management tools and programs for producers and their cooperatives.
Public policy should also continue to protect and strengthen the ability of farmers and ranchers to join together in cooperative efforts that maintain and promote the economic well-being of farmers, ensure access to competitive markets, and help capitalize on market opportunities like value-added processing to meet changing consumer demand. By pooling the buying power of hundreds or thousands of individual producers, farmer cooperatives can supply their members—at a competitive price—with nearly every input necessary to run a successful farming operation, including access to a dependable source of credit.
Our members encourage Congress to shift the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) away from enrollment of whole farms (general sign-up) toward partial field enrollment (continuous sign-up). CRP should make it a priority to keep working lands in production, used to improve the natural resources of working farms, and to decrease overuse of lands not suitable for farming. NCFC recommends that greater emphasis should be placed on enrolling buffers, filter strips, and/or only portions of farms, thus substantially limiting or eliminating future whole farm enrollment unless the entire farm meets certain environmental thresholds.
We applaud the introduction of S. 1400/H.R. 3036, the Increased TSP Access Act of 2023, by Sens. Braun and Bennet and Reps. Baird and Spanberger. NCFC supports instructing the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to increase utilization of third-party Technical Service Providers (TSPs) to ensure better technical assistance to producers. Specifically, NCFC recommends streamlining the TSP certification process, including certified crop advisors, and cooperative-based staff and scientists. Farmer cooperatives have been at the forefront of proactive work to improve the environment in the communities they serve. Our goal is to support science-based, achievable, and affordable environmental policies and initiatives. From pest management to nutrient management, from the development of cutting-edge technologies to implementation of area-wide conservation practices, farmer cooperatives have the expertise and the credibility to serve as the best source for information regarding production practices. Our members are ready to expand public-private partnership opportunities to improve the deliverability of conservation programs.
Additionally, trade is vital to the continued prosperity of co-ops and their farmer and rancher members—with over 95 percent of the world’s population living outside of the United States, our agricultural producers need foreign markets to grow demand and the programs that serve as catalysts to increased market access. We call on Congress to include S. 176, Expanding Agricultural Exports Act of 2023, introduced by Sen. Angus King, and its House companion, H.R. 648, Agriculture Export Promotion Act of 2023, introduced by Rep. Dan Newhouse, in the farm bill. This legislation would double funding for the Market Access Program and Foreign Market Development Program.
NCFC supports the strengthening and enforcement of the Buy American requirements in the school meals programs administered by the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA). Specifically, we encourage Congress to include Buy American language similar to the USDA proposed rule limiting the amount of foreign sourced food to five percent per school year. Additionally, NCFC encourages USDA’s food and nutrition programs to provide all forms of fruits, vegetables, and nuts as outlined in the 2020 Dietary Guidelines. Finally, NCFC supports USDA food and nutrition programs, including Section 32 and commodity purchase programs, together with needed funding, to help achieve their important objectives.
We also call on Congress to ensure farmer cooperatives are eligible to leverage federal programs for the benefit of their farmer members. This includes preserving the Value-Added Producer Grant (VAPG) program in its current form and ensuring all farmer-owned cooperatives, regardless of size, are eligible to participate in the Rural Energy for America Program (REAP).
While a farm bill is vital to the success and viability of rural America, there are numerous critical issues facing production agriculture that must also be addressed by Congress, including the unprecedented labor shortage. Our national security is tied to our ability to feed ourselves, and that security is currently under threat due to the labor crisis facing the agricultural industry. Congress must act now to provide much needed reform to our current agricultural guest worker system if we want these farmers and ranchers to utilize these farm bill programs and continue providing the food and fiber for not only Americans but around the world.
Over the summer, the House and Senate Agriculture Committees accelerated their focus and held hearings on the farm bill to engage with stakeholders across the industry. House Chairman G.T. Thompson held a series of listening sessions across the country and focused hearings on broad themes in Washington. The Senate Agriculture Committee held subcommittee hearings to look at various programs and titles of the farm bill, often taking a deeper diver into specific policy issues. While committee staff in both chambers worked to draft a bipartisan bill throughout the year, lawmakers were busy grappling with government funding deadlines in the fall.
As the end of the year drew nearer, and the farm bill far from finished, all four corners of the Agriculture Committees released a joint statement on November 12, announcing they had reached an agreement to include a one-year extension in the stopgap funding bill, which was signed into law on November 16. The farm bill is set to expire on September 30, 2024.”
Farm bill programs serve a variety of purposes including: meeting the food, fuel and fiber needs of consumers worldwide, strengthening farm income, improving our balance of trade, helping those in need, promoting rural development, and creating needed jobs here at home. In fact, there are over 21 million jobs tied directly to the U.S. agriculture industry.
Every farm bill takes its own, unique path to passage and this one will be no different. NCFC will continue to work with farm and commodity groups and other allied interests in support of farm legislation, together with needed funding, that builds on the success of the 2018 farm bill.