Farmers give input on federal farm bill

Erin Jerome | The Daily Star

Professor Anne Rogan addresses the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Agriculture in a listening session for a new farm bill at SUNY Cobleskill Monday. 

Farmers and advocacy groups for agriculture and nutrition programs filled Bouck Hall at the State University College of Agriculture and Technology at Cobleskill Monday in a listening session for the House of Representatives Agriculture Committee ahead of its new farm bill.

The 2018 bill will follow the Agricultural Act of 2014, which was passed two years late and cut $8 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as “food stamps.” The comprehensive farm bill allocates a majority of funds to SNAP and other nutrition programs.

Speakers were split in defending the SNAP program and highlighting issues affecting farmers in the region.

Representatives from food banks including the Regional Food Bank of Northeastern New York shared letters from SNAP recipients and stressed that any further cuts to the program would increase hunger in the state.

The last farm bill increased funding to food banks by $200 million, but food bank representatives said SNAP recipients are already relying on food banks to fill in the gaps at the end of the month when their stamps run out.

Moderator Tim Moore, dean of the School of Agriculture at SUNY Cobleskill, said farmers are dealing with the worst drop in prices since the Great Depression.

Dairy farmers in Schoharie county called for more funding and regulation of a number of programs, including crop insurance.

“I feel very much duped by the federal government,” said Denise Lloyd, a dairy farmer from the Schoharie Valley.

Lloyd said she and others in attendance paid thousands of dollars for insurance with the Margin Protection Program, a 2014 program to compensate dairy farmers for drops in the price of milk. The insurance has not provided any compensation to farmers for lost milk revenue since its inception, according to dairy farmers across New York.

Milk prices in the state have declined 30 percent over the past three years, despite overproduction with a value of over $2.5 billion, according to USDA data.

“Milk prices are unsatisfactory, unprofitable, and unrealistic,” said Barbara Damin of St. Johnsville.

Other farmers echoed that complaint and said low milk prices were putting family farms out of business. They also cited trade deals with Canada and other countries as damaging to their bottom lines.

Another maligned policy was capping income for farm subsidies and ending direct payment subsidies, which paid farmers whether or not they grew crops.

A handful of dairy farmers also called for immigration reform, either in general terms or by asking for expanded access to visas for unskilled workers. A recent report by the Worker Justice Center of New York and the Workers' Center of Central New York found that 93 percent of immigrant dairy workers in New York are undocumented.

The National Young Farmers Coalition turned out to speak about barriers to entry in farming, including the high price and limited availability of land, and student debt.

“I don't want to return to that farm as the only young farmer in the area,” said Holly Rippon-Butler of Schuylerville.

Committee Chairman K. Michael Conaway avoided promising any changes in the farm bill, but described it as a work in progress, saying, “Obviously, the dairy part has not worked.”

He said the committee would be looking at how the cost of food might be influenced during considerations, noting that it would affect SNAP benefits.   

Erin Jerome, staff writer, may be reached at (607) 441-7221, or at ejerome@thedailystar.com. Follow her on Twitter at @DS_ErinJ .

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