The Glasgow Courier - Serving Proudly As The Independent Voice Of Valley County Since 1913

By A.J. Etherington
The Courier 

Montana Senators Talk Farm Bill, Set to Expire Sept. 30


September 26, 2018

The 2018 versions of the farm bill passed the U.S. House of Representatives and the U.S. Senate in late June and have been in conference ever since. In true form, the five-year bill is now set to expire at the end of the week on Sept. 30, and no bill has emerged from the bicameral conference. The Glasgow Courier was contacted by Senator Tester’s office to discuss the bill, and we reached out to Senator Steve Daines’ office to interview the two on the farm bill’s current situation and their expectations for the future of the bill.

Although Sen. Daines expressed hope that a deal would come in time for the deadline, Sen. Tester was pessimistic that the farm bill would pass by Sept. 30, responding to the question of whether the bill would pass by the deadline saying, “It sure doesn’t look like it.” Sen. Daines’ response was slightly more optimistic. “We are doing everything we can to get a strong farm bill across the finish line,” said the Senator, adding later that he was, “Still hoping for the end of the month.”

According to both Senators, the major points of contention are the consolidation of conservation programs, forestry reforms and the SNAP work requirements. According to Senator Tester. the House version of the bill would cut SNAP by $23 billion over the next 10 years. “Work requirements are important,” said the Senator, but he had concerns related to mental health and feels the current work requirement for SNAP was sufficient.

Senator Daines took a different approach to the SNAP work requirement calling them “common sense” requirements. “They seem to be pretty common sense,” said Daines, “If you are able-bodied and able to work then you should.”

The Courier also spoke to former President of the National Association of Wheat Growers and long-term wheat and pulse crop farmer out of Outlook, Mont., Gordon Stoner, about his take on the current farm bill situation. Stoner had a pessimistic view for the deadline as well, “My suspicion is, given the way the system works in Washington, we’re not going to get one.”

Stoner tried to explain why the farm bill would be stalled in conference. “Let me put it this way,” said Stoner, “The farm bill is 80 percent nutrition, 10 percent farms as related to agriculture and 10 percent other. The parts that involve agriculture could not pass without our urban neighbors.”

Stoner said he views the farm bill as a sort of trade where farmers get crop insurance and subsidies in exchange for others receiving SNAP benefits. “There is no way to separate the two,” explained Stoner, “It needs to be addressed.”

All three individuals were confident that a bill would eventually pass in the long-run, but that the uncertainty of it was likely further unsettling the already struggling agriculture community. “It’s important that farmers have predictability in the end,” explained Tester adding later that, “There are enough pressures in production agriculture.”

Stoner was less concerned about the long-term consequences stating, “Some in D.C. are saying we really have until December.” That is when many of the programs will truly run out, or will need to be in place to support the next production season. “On the short term I’m really concerned,” said Stoner who expressed concern for market development programs like the Foreign Market Development and Foreign Market Access programs that support overseas offices promoting American goods.

According to Stoner, the U.S. exports over 80 percent of wheat grown in the country, and if you couple cuts to foreign market development with the growing trade conflict, he feels it could have devastating effects on agriculture producers in Montana.

The Outlook-based farmer described the already occurring effects of the trade war, stating that the top three wheat markets were turning elsewhere to purchase the crop. He said Mexico had already turned to Argentina, Japan was looking to Australia and Canada and that China had not purchased a single bushel of wheat since the first round of tariffs in March.

He described fears of a protracted trade war and assertions that the administration had told them that the “$12 billion MFP was implemented to send a clear message to China of this administrations resolve to see the trade war through,” explained Stoner continuing, “I saw that as a signal that this will be a long, hard fight.”

Stoner expressed concern that given the already suffering state of agriculture following droughts, depressed prices and now uncertainty with the farm bill that he feels, “Some producers will suffer and they might not survive it.” He added later in the interview that, “Without exports Ag does not have a rosy outlook.”

In response to the trade war issues, Senator Daines seemed in tune with Montana farmers on the issues surrounding trade. He stated, “80 percent of our wheat goes overseas.” He expressed his support for market development. “I support some of these multilateral trade agreements like TPP,” asserted Daines adding that he supports bi-lateral deals with Mexico, Canada, Japan and China.

Daines did clarify that he feels, “The President is doing the right thing to challenge China on trade and for theft of our intellectual property rights.”

Senator Tester was also sympathetic to the trade conflict’s effects on Ag producers and the instability not passing the farm bill has on those same producers. Tester does not think an extension could exclude funding for foreign market programs. “An extension has to be a solid extension,” said Tester, going up against the idea of extending some of the programs or limiting funding to others as a solution, “That is not the way to do business.”

On trade, Tester agreed with Stoner, commenting that markets can be difficult to recover. “As soon as that infrastructure goes another way, it’s harder to get those markets back,” said Tester adding that, “Canada, Australia and Argentina are eating this up.”

When asked if he thinks the trade war and the farm bill uncertainty might cause some farms to go under, Tester responded, “I certainly hope not.”

Daines echoed that sentiment, “In chatting with our farmers, they face enough uncertainty as it is.” He said his daughter will be marrying a farmer in the Gallatin Valley, and that he hears from him as well causing Daines to say definitively, “We don’t need to add further uncertainty in the life of our farmers.”

Daines was adamant that the farm bill should include the SNAP requirement and forestry reform. Tester was adamant that the SNAP reform would harm low-income Americans and he was cautious of the consolidation of Conservation Reserve Program and the Environmental Quality Incentive Program. Neither would definitively say which final bills they would support coming out of conference.

Both Senators and Stoner agreed, though, that Washington should be working hard to get this done by the deadline. Whether that actually occurs is unknown, and the short-and long-term effects it would have on agriculture are also unclear.

Congressmen Gianforte was unavailable to be interviewed for this article, but provided the following statement, “I’ve listened to Montana farmers and ranchers and have urged the conference committee to iron out a Farm Bill that works for Montana. We need a Farm Bill that provides for a strong safety net and greater certainty for Montana farmers and ranchers, maintains the sugar program, preserves the Farm Credit system and provides needed forest management reforms to improve the health of our forests and support good-paying Montana jobs. I look forward to fully reviewing the bill, which I hope the conference committee will report soon.”


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