Rep. Walz: Farm bill important for the future of agriculture
Published 2:00 pm Friday, May 31, 2013
AUSTIN — A group of local farmers, conservationists and U.S. Rep. Tim Walz circled their lawn chairs in an old farm shed Thursday morning and got down to the straight talk about Congress needing to pass a five-year farm bill.
“You can have sustainability and create economic growth in new markets,” Walz said while sitting next to Arvid Jovaag and his wife, Lois, owners of a sustainable farm just south of Austin.
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The Jovaags were the Mower Soil and Water Conservation District’s Outstanding Conservationists in 2010, and like many local farmers, they want a farm bill that renews incentives for taking care of the land and raising a variety of crops and livestock.
“It’s been real important for us to take those conservation incentives,” Arvid said about programs such as the Conservation Reserve Program, Reinvest in Minnesota and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program.
Those programs encourage sustainable farmers to set aside land as natural filters and habitat, instead of plowing up ground and planting crops.
“We want more farms like the Jovaags’ across the American land,” said Adam Warthesen, federal policy organizer with the Land Stewardship Project.
Crop insurance was another hot topic. Walz and his constituents spoke about setting caps on crop insurance and leveling the playing field for small, diversified farms. That could also ensure some farm operations won’t grow too large or plant too much of one crop.
Walz and others spoke about the benefits of crop insurance, which Arvid saw last year because of drought. Like many farmers, Arvid may rely on those benefits this year as he has not yet planted any beans.
Another important issue involves the future of farmers. The Jovaags’ son, Jon, who recently returned to work on the family farm, knows all about it. He and others spoke Thursday about creating a bill that makes it possible for young farmers to obtain land or start their own farms. A provision of the bill authored by Walz, the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act, would help do that with access to lines of credit and training programs for newer farmers.
Walz said the farm bill is not easy to pass, as it did not pass last year. He added this year’s bill is better, has passed the U.S. House Agriculture Committee and will get a vote on the House floor. Some provisions will be compromises, and no bill will be perfect, though.
“I don’t think any farm bill is a completed project,” Walz said.
Walz said legislators need to pass the bill by late July or August.
Provisions authored by Walz in the new farm bill aim to:
• Make it easier for youth to begin farming and ranching operations and agriculture entrepreneurship.
• Increase energy access in rural America; improving efficiency and reducing input costs for farmers and small businesses.
• Ensure farmers have flexibility to grow a wide array of crops without penalty or fear of losing their insurance.
• Save taxpayer dollars, conserve critical wildlife and hunting habitats, while still allowing farmers to manage lands as they see fit.