Officials listen to farm bill concernsFederal and state officials met here Thursday to discuss the upcoming farm bill, and area producers were on hand with their concerns. The North Dakota Food and Agricultural Council, which is comprised of federal, state and local officials with concerns about agriculture, met at North Dakota Farmers Union headquarters in Jamestown.
By: Ben Rodgers, The Jamestown Sun
Federal and state officials met here Thursday to discuss the upcoming farm bill, and area producers were on hand with their concerns.
The North Dakota Food and Agricultural Council, which is comprised of federal, state and local officials with concerns about agriculture, met at North Dakota Farmers Union headquarters in Jamestown.
“Nothing is more important right now than discussing the next farm bill,” said Jasper Schneider, FAC chairperson and director of USDA Rural Development.
The federal farm bill is renewed every five years and covers nearly all aspects of agriculture in the United States, including production, transportation and nutrition. The new bill is expected to be voted on some time early next year.
Water and its effects on the surrounding area were a concern to some roughly 40 people in attendance.
Don Frye, mayor of Carrington, N.D., said his community depends 100 percent on successful agriculture. Part of that success is guaranteed through rural development.
On Thursday Frye said tests were being conducted at the city’s new water treatment plant. That plant is crucial to the success of the Dakota Growers Pasta plant, a subsidiary of Viterra, Frye said.
Roads to deliver the crops are also important to the success of the Carrington area, he said.
“There has to be people remembering not to dump rural development,” Frye said. “Delivering the crops is just as important as everything else in the system.”
Pam Gulleson, of Rutland, N.D., was concerned that producers have ability to keep product numbers strong, but infrastructure has suffered and there’s not the ability to transport it.
“The infrastructure all around us is collapsing,” Gulleson said.
Schneider said while rural development is part of the farm bill, the best time to address the need will be in the next special legislative session this November.
“If you don’t make the investments now, we’re not going to reach our full potential,” he said.
The problem that faces many small communities is that farms are only getting bigger, which forces rural communities to only get smaller, said Becky Meidinger, president of the South Central Dakota Regional Council and an economic developer from Cooperstown, N.D. This pattern of expanding farms and shrinking communities is starting to hurt rural development, she said.
“I would really like the federal government to consider expanding rural economic development programs with this farm bill,” Meidinger said.
Expanding those programs is an uphill political battle that is unlikely to see results, said Scott Stofferahn, state director for Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D.
There are two types of federal spending involved in this issue: mandatory and discretionary. Mandatory spending is guaranteed to be there when the need arises and based on a formula; crop insurance falls in this category. Discretionary spending is predetermined and amounts are capped; rural economic development falls under this category.
For example, if there is money already set aside for rural economic development in predetermined funds, any additional funds appropriated in the farm bill will most likely wind up going to other programs that are considered mandatory spending.
“We’ve had virtually no success in trying to put mandatory spending (formulated spending) under the economic development title,” Stofferahn said.
The nation is facing a $1.5 trillion annual budget deficit and program cuts are being discussed. While some people may not understand the farm bill and what it does, that bill could also face some cuts in this political climate, he said.
“Right now we are struggling with how we are going to go forward with the farm bill at all,” Stofferahn said.
NDFU President Robert Carlson said the farm bill is about more than just the legislation. One important factor is the growing demand for food the world will face when the population is expected to reach more than 9 billion by 2050.
An issue to ensure that demand is met is providing crop insurance as a safety net for farmers who face natural disasters — like flooding — and have their crop affected, Carlson said.
“There’s a lot riding on this,” he said. “We’re going to have to work together.”
Sun reporter Ben Rodgers can be reached at 701-952-8455 or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org