Farm friendly lawmakers may be more scarce in Washington
Rep. Bill Owens visiting a dairy farm. Are "farm-friendly" lawmakers like him becoming rare? Photo: Rep.Owens facebook page
I know there may be Farm Bill overkill lately, but it's worth posting here my conversation with Rep. Bill Owens about the bill's failure in the House.
Remember Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack's comments over the winter about rural America becoming "less relevant"? Well, the collapse of the Farm Bill, Owens believes, is a manifestation of that shifting demographic and political power away from farm country.
Below is a transcript of a part of our conversation. What do you think? Do you think farmers are in danger of losing a hold of farm policy in this country?
DS: What about the notion that this Farm Bill has grown in sort of patchwork fashion over decades, and maybe it's too big and too "Frankenstein-ian" and too complicated and too generous and maybe needs to be sort of be broken down and shifted around and turned around?
BO: If there's a focus on the SNAP program, and that's now the largest program in the Farm Bill, there's some very practical reasons why that's included. Primarily, it's because we have fewer and fewer farm districts in Congress. And in order to get a Farm Bill passed, you need to include something like SNAP in order to bring along those folks who live in urban and suburban settings. Because they don't have the same concern as those of us who represent agricultural districts do.
DS: One comment I was reading said that the failure of the Farm Bill in this vote showed how farmers are and lawmakers from farm states are losing control of U.S. farm policy, and it reminded me a little bit of Agriculture secretary Tom Vilsack's comment, that rural America is becoming less relevant.
BO: Well I think I was actually saying essentially that same thought, just a little softer. I think that that is a real problem. And people will not connect the dots until it affects them either in food supply or price. And you have to be providing, in my view, and I'm someone who grew up in the New York City metropolitan area with very little exposure to the agricultural community until I began to live in Plattsburgh, and I came to realize over a period of 35 years, this is a very tricky situation that we're in.
If you disconnected SNAP from the Farm Bill, I'm not sure that you'd get another piece of farm legislation through because there isn't the interest. Until we have a situation where one of the major sources of food supply dries up. And balancing support for farmers I think is very important both short term and long term. And I'm not suggesting to you that I think this particular Farm Bill or the one that was passed in 2008 was a perfect bill. But, it is again something which has been put together as a mosaic in the form of a compromise that focuses on both short term and long term goals. But we have a very hard time communicating that to the urban and suburban communities.
Tags: agriculture, dairy, farming, food, owens, politics, vilsack, washington