CLAVERACK–Congressman Chris Gibson (R-20th) met this week with local farmers at the Farm Credit East office on Route 9H, briefing them on the status of the House version of the Farm Bill, which was adopted in committee last week with support from both Republicans and Democrats.
Mr. Gibson, who spoke briefly to a reporter after the meeting as he headed off to his next scheduled stop in a far corner of Greene County, described the 35 – 11 vote in favor of the bill in committee in House, called the Federal Agriculture Reform and Risk Management (FARRM) Act Committee on Agriculture as “very bipartisan” and said he thought the House and Senate would be able to come to an agreement on the five-year. Mr. Gibson sits on the Agriculture Committee.
The committee’s news release on the bill does not mention a specific amount, nor does Mr. Gibson’s release, and the bill must still be voted on by the full House and reconciled with the Senate version, but the New York Times reported that the House version would cost $969 billion over the next decade.
In the press release from his office following the committee vote, Mr. Gibson said the legislation would change the existing safety net for dairy farmers, who are hit hard by swings in the market, allowing them to participate in a “voluntary marginal insurance risk management program.” He said that would permit them to purchase coverage based on the size of their operation and their needs, and would improve the safety net.
He said the bill would also improve the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) and other forms of insurance that were not in place when tropical storms hit the Northeast late last summer. He said he had worked with Vermont Democrat Peter Welch to have that included in the bill.
Some conservation groups have expressed concern that the House bill would reduce by almost half the number of conservation programs run by the USDA, but the bill’s supporters refer to the changes as “streamlining” 23 programs into 13, which would eliminate overlapping program. Mr. Gibson says that although the bill would make program cuts, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP), “a program that has worked well for upstate New York was protected.”
Rep. Gibson, who is running for reelection against Democratic challenger Julian Schreibman in a newly redrawn 21st District, noted three parts of the bill that he had sought to have included:
* A pilot program that would allow schools to buy fresh local produce instead of fruits and vegetables through the Department of Agriculture. Representatives Welch and Chellie Pingree (D-ME) authored the proposal
* Reauthorization of the Rural Utilities Service Broadband Loan Program at $25 million, with section by Mr. Gibson intended to increase transparency and another that calls for the agriculture secretary to consider long-term technology needs in evaluating applications for loans
* Establishing a veterans’ liaison position at United States Department of Agriculture and an “administrative arm” that would oversee programs for veterans in the bill.
Kinderhook dairy farmer Eric Ooms, vice president of the New York State Farm Bureau, said after the meeting with Mr. Gibson, that farmers are “in the best position we’ve been in for years,” in terms of the farm bill, although the changes would not come without some pain.
“The agriculture community is willing to take their lumps,” in terms of compromises in the bill, he said, looking at the trade-offs philosophically. “We’re getting away from things that didn’t work and heading to things that could work,” Mr. Ooms said.
Mr. Oooms said that 78% of spending in the farm program goes to nutritional programs. On that score, Mr. Gibson said in his release, “As we seek to reform our nutrition programs (SNAP), it is important to encourage the use of SNAP benefits at farmers’ markets, and other direct producer-to-consumer outlets. Building on efforts by made by Governor Andrew Cuomo and Senator Kirsten Gillibrand, this pilot program will help promote the use of nutrition benefits at local farmers’ markets.”
SNAP stands for Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Plan, the program that used to be called Food stamps.
The current farm appropriation law expires September 30 and Mr. Gibson said Monday he thought the House and Senate could come to an agreement on a final bill.
Mr. Ooms said it might be that the Congress would pass a three-to-four month extension of the current law. That would maintain agriculture programs through this fall’s election. But he didn’t see that as desirable. Even worse, he said, was the prospect that Congress would take no action on a bill the president would sign. “We can’t let [the law] expire,” Mr. Ooms said.