Wilson County recently became the hot spot for nationwide discussions on the expiring Farm Bill and future versions of the legislation.
The current Farm Bill went into effect in 2018. The legislation, which expires in September, allowed the U.S. Department of Agriculture to implement several programs aimed at improving commodity programs, livestock, conservation, trade, nutrition programs, credit, rural development, research, forestry, energy, horticulture and crop insurance.
Rep. John Rose, TN-6, welcomed Congressional colleagues Rep. Glenn Thompson of Pennsylvania, Rep. Scott DesJarlais of Tennessee and Rep. Jonathan Jackson of Illinois to Tennessee last week. The group toured a handful of farms and agricultural operations over a two-day period, which also included a listening session on the Farm Bill at the Made in Tennessee Building at the James E. Ward Ag Center in Lebanon.
Dozens of agricultural leaders from around the country gathered at the center, which sits in the county with the most Century Farms in the state, to discuss the expiring Farm Bill, changes they would like to see in future versions of the bill and how those changes or inactions could impact the future of agriculture.
“It’s so important to have your voice at the table when it comes to the 2023 Farm Bill. You don’t want us writing a farm bill or, quite frankly, any other piece of legislation just listening to the voices in the bubble and beltway of Washington. Trust me. It wouldn’t work out well,” said Thompson, who the House Agriculture Committee chairman.
A group of 30 people that included agriculture leaders from their respective states, non-profit group representatives, agriculture advocates and local farmers shared brief remarks on aspects of the Farm Bill.
Highlighted issues included government overregulation, more dedicated funds for agricultural research and conservation, production costs, base acres issues, disease among livestock and forestry management.
The Farm Bill also addresses issues not dealing with physical labor or research, including the SNAP program and rural broadband.
Taylor Batey, Tennessee Broadband director under the Tennessee Department of Economic and Community Development, discussed the need and benefit of rural broadband for agriculture.
“Access to high-speed internet is longer a luxury to Tennesseans or anyone across the country,” Batey said. “It’s really a necessity to our communities to access education, healthcare, business opportunities, telework, precision agriculture and access to the online global marketplace.”
Batey said the presence of high-speed internet would allow farmers and agriculture personnel to adopt new technology, modernize operations and compete with others across the country and globally.
She said the service would also strengthen rural economy and benefit future generations of farmers.
Jennifer Ward, program director for SNAP-Ed and EFNEP programs at the University of Tennessee, said both are funded by the Farm Bill and said funding for the programs have remained flat, which costs associated with the programs have risen.
“Currently, with the demands of the market, we are forced to retract our programs. We can’t fund as many nutrition educators and we make hard choices about what communities we can reach,” she said.
The legislators thanked the group of speakers and made their own remarks relative to the Farm Bill.
“I’m very much concerned about dairy as a way of life and the unfortunate decision that was made that caused so much harm to that industry,” Jackson said. “I will be very mindful of the moves that can be made in DC that can hurt people across the country in an unintended way as we go forward with this farm bill.”
“I welcome unlimited written information – suggestions, comments and solutions,” Thompson said. “We are still in the audit mode when it comes to the Farm Bill.”
“We know that the future of agriculture is not a given. It takes the hard work of each of you to make sure there’s going to be a future,” Rose said.