Tester Listens To Ideas For Farm Bill
Seeking insight from Montanans who work in the agriculture industry, U.S. Sen. Jon Tester, D-Mont., conducted public meetings regarding ideas for a new farm bill in Glasgow, Sidney and Plentywood last week.
During his Barnstormin’ Farm Bill Listening Tour, Tester said the current bill expires at the end of September. Discussions have already started for the new legislation.
“Hopefully if Congress does its job, it will be better than the current one,” Tester said during the forum in Glasgow.
Tester isn’t on the agriculture committee, but the senior senator serves on the powerful appropriations committee.
The Democrat said that being the only working farmer in the Senate provides him credibility when discussing agriculture issues.
After the meeting, Tester said he will take the input received and do his best to make sure that Montanans’ voices are heard in Washington, D.C.
Along with the meetings last week, Tester plans listening sessions in the central and western parts of the state.
Tester was joined at the listening session by Tom Depuydt of the Montana Farm Bureau, Lochiel Edwards of the Montana Grain Growers Association, Lesley Robertson of the Montana Stockgrowers Association, Brett Daily of the Montana Wheat and Barley Committee and Walt Schweitzer of the Montana Farmers Union.
Robertson said that the disaster drought program is being utilized as people are currently seeing a lot of hay being hauled.
She also talked about two federal programs and the possible need of extending a deadline because of supply chain issues.
She said she supports the voluntary conservation program as long as it remains voluntary.
Schweitzer noted that COVID put a microscope on the nation’s food supply chain. “We found out it’s broken.”
He feels that the 60-year cheap food philosophy has hurt the nation’s ag industry. Previous farm bills have benefited corporate monopolies. Maximum production really increases the monopolies and trade to other countries.
Schweitzer said farmers need more local access to local grocery store shelves.
Edwards noted the farm bill should be fair and equitable. “Farmers like the bill, by and large,” he said. During his 53 years in farming, Edwards said it’s not the best farm bill but also isn’t the worst.
Edwards cautioned that there’s a lot of enthusiasm for environmental friendly projects. “We need to be careful not to rob Title I for those programs,” he said. He also discussed raising some rates in federal programs.
Depuydt stressed that crop insurance has been critical during the last two years. He said more funding is needed for the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).
Dailey mentioned the need for more water well drillers. He also feels that the ability to file for programs online would be beneficial.
During public comment, Tester was asked whether the current administration wants the country’s agriculture industry to fail. “I don’t think that’s what anybody wants,” Tester said. The senior added that family farm agriculture is critical to food security.
Tester noted his work in promoting more competition to large meat packers. He said capitalism is the best system in the world, but it only works when you have competition.
Schweitzer added that because of cheap food policies, the U.S. is the largest importer of beef in the world. “How ridiculous is that?,” he asked.
He notes the current administration has signed 72 executive orders to address the competition challenges.
Tester said that the Country of Origin Labeling legislation now has bi-partisan support.
“We will continue to push for it,” Tester said.
After his time in Glasgow on Jan. 10, Tester visited with Fort Peck tribal officials in Poplar. Topics included housing and water projects.