Providing resources to strengthen farm programs and revitalize rural America
This year, Congress is charged with passing the next iteration of the farm bill. If the broad suite of programs within the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) are not reauthorized by the end of September, farmers in Western Minnesota and throughout the country will lose access to critical risk management tools, conservation programs, and other vital resources. Agriculture in the U.S. faces a variety of challenges and pressures today, including historically high inflation, lost access to crop protection tools, slowed supply chains, and increased regulatory pressures at all levels of government. It is with this backdrop that Congress must pass a farm bill that builds on the important work of the 2018 reauthorization, while making farmer-friendly improvements where necessary. To do that, we need to protect crop insurance and improve the broader risk management system, improve disaster assistance, and strengthen rural development programs to invest in strong rural communities.
Across my district in Western Minnesota, farmers have spoken in unison about the importance of crop insurance as a baseline risk management tool. Crop insurance covers over 95 percent of eligible acres for all major crops in Minnesota, which speaks to both the popularity and the effectiveness of this tool to manage risk. It remains the most fundamental of USDA’s broader risk management programs that provides a degree of certainty that otherwise does not exist in the business of farming. It is also a worthwhile investment. Title I and crop insurance spending amounts to just a fraction of a percent of total federal spending. But through these programs, American agriculture safely and efficiently produces a food supply that remains the envy of the world.
However, Congress should consider ways the strengths of the crop insurance system can be bolstered, such as incentivizing producers to “buy up” to higher coverage levels or filling gaps that available policies might not otherwise cover. While the program has met the moment in providing a basic level of risk protection, the last several years have shown us how the broader safety net can fall short when responding to the recent droughts, flooding and other natural disasters. Because of this ineffectiveness, Congress has appropriated ad hoc assistance of tens of billions over the life of the 2018 farm bill. This is unsustainable from a policy, budget, and even good governance perspective. Our current food system requires efficient and effective disaster assistance to respond to events as they come, instead of relying on Congress to write a check after the fact and hope that USDA can quickly and equitably distribute such aid as Congress intended. In the short time I have been in Congress, producers in my district saw severe drought throughout 2021 followed by flooding in the spring of 2022, and an avian flu outbreak. Farmers have frequently not known which programs were available, what they might be eligible for, and when assistance will be received because Congress often takes up to a year or more to respond. This lag time in response can often mean the difference between whether a farm survives or fails. In many respects, crop insurance was created to respond to situations where producers suffer devastating losses far beyond their control. Congress should consider making higher coverage levels cost effective while filling in gaps in coverage as a more cost-effective solution to the current disaster response process. This ensures participants in that system have “skin in the game,” while addressing the inefficiencies that we see today.
Finally, we need to focus on programs that strengthens our rural communities. Our rural areas are being left behind in legislation that focuses on the needs of cities and ignores the needs of our producing communities. For example, we need to invest in deploying a broadband infrastructure that bridges the digital divide between urban and rural America. Investing in programming that strengthens housing, educational opportunities, and health care will incentivize more people to move to and remain in the beautiful, rural parts of this country. This will have a twofold effect of increasing economic development and enhancing quality of life for all parts of the country, not just urban metropolises.
The House majority understands the needs of our farm communities and the businesses that rely on them and I am confident this year’s farm bill will reflect their needs and priorities. I will continue to work tirelessly with my colleagues on the Budget Committee to ensure the Agriculture Committee has the resources to strengthen farm programs and revitalize rural America through the 2023 farm bill.
Michelle Fischbach represents Minnesota’s 7th District and is a member of the Congressional Western Caucus.
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