I spent this past week in Washington, D.C., with the Indiana Agricultural Leadership Program. We met with Senators, Congressmen, farm industry and environmental lobbyists, and executive agency officials. Though this was not my first visit to D.C., the past week was eye-opening for a number of reasons. There were a few recurring themes I heard over and over this week I thought I would share.
1. Direct Payments Are Dead. Long Live Crop Insurance. Almost everyone I spoke to said the same thing--direct payment subsidies to farmers are not politically feasible in an era of belt tightening. I expect them to be eliminated or significantly reformed in the next Farm Bill. Direct payments will likely continue under NRCS conservation programs, but such payments will be tied directly to conservation programs.
Crop insurance, on the other hand, seems to enjoy strong support on Capitol Hill. The 2012 drought has demonstrated the value of the federal crop insurance program in rough years. Look for crop insurance programs to remain strong, or even strengthen if direct payments are phased out.
|Senator Joe Donnelly|
A side note: I was not aware how much the debate over reforming milk pricing and marketing has been a road block to passing a Farm Bill. Margin insurance and supply management are significant changes in dairy policy--apparently too significant for many in the House to accept at this time.
3. Immigration Reform Will Come in 2013. Mitt Romney's inability to win more than 27% of the US Hispanic vote has been a wake up call for many Republicans in Congress to reevaluate their stance on immigration. Agriculture has more to gain from immigration reform than any other industry, as it relies heavily on seasonal and migrant workers. American Farm Bureau is supporting a plan for comprehensive immigration reform to help US agriculture meet labor demands: (Farm Bureau Urges New Ag Labor Guestworker Program). Look for immigration reform in 2013, probably even sooner than a Farm Bill.
|Senator Dan Coats|
Finally, I learned that a working democracy is a messy business. The founders designed the legislative process to be slow, thoughtful, and filled with lively debate. However cumbersome this process appears, it is better than the alternative the founders sought to avoid--decisions made by one person with no public input. Keeping that perspective, things are actually working in D.C.
|USDA - 12th and Independence|
|A poster at NRCS: Legacy of Conservation|
|The real Mall of America on a bright sunny February day.|
|Plaque that appears in USDA headquarters.|
|The Capitol steps.|