Caroline Webby, Contributor, Valley Ag Voice
The House Committee on Agriculture hosted the first official listening session Tuesday, February 14th, 2023, at the World Ag Expo to collect feedback on the 2018 Farm Bill and gather input from stakeholders on the developing 2023 Farm Bill. Chairman GT Thompson was joined by Speaker Kevin McCarthy (CA-20) and fellow congressmen Rep. David Valadao (CA-22), Rep. Jim Costa (CA-21), Rep. Doug LaMalfa (CA-24), Rep. David Rouzer (NC-07), Rep. Salud Carbajal (CA-24), Rep. Jimmy Panetta (CA-19), Rep. John Rose (TN-06), and Rep. John Duarte (CA-13) on the panel. Remarks were given by organization representatives and individuals from across the state and country, covering topics such as crop protection, innovation, conservation needs, nutrition programs, specialty crops, and more.
The Farm Bill is a piece of legislation first enacted in 1933 by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt to alleviate difficulties facing the country as fallout from the Great Depression and the Dust Bowl. Three main goals of the Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933, the first Farm Bill, were to support farmers while they navigate fluctuations in their business, feed the hungry, and protect the environment for future production. Most of the funds allocated to current farm bill programs go to feeding the hungry; the bill’s Nutrition Title is projected to account for over 80% of the baseline cost in 2023. Due to issues still facing the country today, it is even more critical to improve upon the current framework of this bill.
When the listening session opened for public comment, many praised the 2018 Farm Bill for its conservation programs that paid farmers to make land improvements, crop insurance programs, and the nutrition programs that sustained many families through the 2020 Covid-19 crisis. In addition, they commended the congress members for taking the time to listen to constituents, stakeholders, and industry innovators, as the feedback will be vital for improvement and progression.
Several of those who gave comments suggested expansions for the 2023 Bill, looking for farmers to be successful, protected, and to receive proper provisions for being providers to the nation. These expansions included increased research and mechanization, more robust nutrition programs, and protections for specialty crops such as grapes, pistachios, and almonds. Aubrey Bettencourt, President and CEO of the Almond Alliance of CA, said of adapting and developing with growing climate and conservation requirements, “the goal is to keep our farmers farming” with tools to be part of the solution to problems they are facing. Cassidie Bates, a representative from the Food Bank of Contra Costa and Solano, mentioned strengthening nutrition programs as “food insecurity is again on the rise” on the sunset of Covid mitigation efforts. Other suggestions include promoting US products and considering domestic producers when importing goods. Ian LeMay, president of the California Fresh Fruit Association, proposed that the USDA be given authority to promote US goods domestically. Each of the speakers represented the ag community well, seeking to bring success not only to California but to the whole country.
The Farm Bill will end in September, so the “Farm Team,” as Chairman Thompson calls the bipartisan committee, is motivated to present their new Farm Bill in the fall. Rep. Jim Costa stated, “The reauthorization of the Farm Bill is one of the most critical bipartisan pieces of legislation we will work on this year. It is imperative that the San Joaquin Valley and California farmers’ needs are heard and reflected in the final bill [. . .]. The information gathered will help us implement policies that address some of the Valley’s most pressing needs.”
Listening sessions will continue to occur across the country as the House prepares for the proposed fall presentation of the new Farm Bill. The second session was on March 15th in Waco, Texas. At this time, a third session has not been announced. Review the committee’s website, agriculture.house.gov, to follow this topic for updates and additional information.