Rural Voices Discussions: The Next Farm Bill

Excerpts from the Minnesota Farmers Union’s August 1, 2017 report Rural Voices Discussions: The Next Farm Bill

There is an ever-present question on the minds of policymakers and the media: What do rural people think? In no area is this as true as when it’s time to build a new federal Farm Bill. As the United States Congress begins to look at the Farm Bill, Minnesota Farmers Union organized two of many Rural Voices Discussions it will conduct in 2017 and 2018 to capture what farmers and rural people affected by Farm Bill programs have to say about what is essential in the bill. The Rural Voices Discussions aimed to provide an opportunity for farmers to have their voices heard and become involved in the development of policies and laws that will affect the future of farming.

Based on listening to nearly 100 people in our first two Rural Voices Discussions on the Farm, Minnesota Farmers Union is following up these Rural Voices Discussion with the following call to action:

Strong safety net
We call on Congress to write a new Farm Bill to the needs of farmers, not budget cuts. A new Farm Bill and agricultural issues must be high priorities for Congress. Legislators need to hear and heed the input from family farmers and rural communities in building a new Farm Bill, instead of only addressing budget cuts. Congress should maintain financial support for current safety net provisions and look to expand safety net programs to address the broad diversity in family farms in the United States.

Health care
We call on Congress to use the Farm Bill to solve the issue of health care availability and affordability. This could include options such as farmer co-op pools. Action must be taken to cut down on health insurance premium and deductible costs. Case in point: in our discussions, we heard the example of $43,429 per year premiums and deductible costs. This is not sustainable. If we are serious about keeping families on farms, we need to be serious about this health insurance cost crisis.

Listening sessions
We call on Congress members to hold more listening sessions and public hearings on the Farm Bill as it impacts family farmers and rural communities. Legislators should work with agriculture and nutrition groups to conduct hearings on topics such as health insurance costs, safety nets, broadband, renewable energy, dairy supply management, land access, beginning farmer programs and succession planning, health and human services issues, including pay for rural health care workers, and hunger issues including closed grocery stores, assisting farmers markets and others. This can create a broader understanding of how the Farm Bill connects to both urban and rural needs.

Hunger issues
We call on Congress to continue to keep nutrition and agriculture together in the Farm Bill. We call on Congress to support programs in the Farm Bill to address hunger, especially the SNAP program, Food Shelf initiatives including mobile food shelves for rural areas, and work with rural organizations, local governments, and others to ensure that no one in rural America is hungry. Passing a Farm Bill is a moral thing to do. People should be able to afford to eat.

We call on Congress to address the rural infrastructure issues in the Farm Bill, including ensuring that rural development and broadband internet access programs are properly funded and implemented.

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