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Last week, I listened via webcast to a Senate discussion on rural development and agriculture. It was organized by Democrats, but an issue that all parties can agree on is that farmers need people in Washington, D.C., who understand what they do and why it matters.

Debbie Stabenow, chairwoman for the Senate Agriculture Committee, said agriculture supports 16 million jobs in the United States. With so many dependent on ag, she said it’s important that a full, five-year farm bill be passed.

She said the farm bill is “probably the biggest jobs bill we pass and it’s focussed on rural communities all across Michigan and all across America.”

Her party has argued for the past year, and the past half-year especially, that the House of Representatives should have passed the farm bill put before them last fall by the Senate and the House’s own agriculture committee.

House members, meanwhile, have countered that the bill did not cut enough spending, that too much is allocated for food stamps and nutrition programming (80) percent, and that the inclusion of a dairy price protection program was too close to supply management.

Thus, the House did not vote and the bill went nowhere.

I’m not sure who is right, although I do have to give the full Senate and the House agriculture committee a lot of credit for spending the time and effort to get this bill together.

Representing agriculture

But the farm bill aside, a bigger issue that surfaced during the Senate talk was the need to make sure people are put in Washington who understand what rural America needs. And when they understand this, they need to do something.

Sen. Mark Pryor, D-Ariz., said lawmakers must make sure “when we do things in Washington we’re not leaving Rural America behind.”

He talked about the importance of regulations that make sense for farmers — and reforming the ones that get in the way. It is good to see someone willing to take a hard-line look at this issue, for the farmer’s sake.

Pryor is working with Ohio’s Republican Senator Rob Portman, to accomplish some necessary regulatory reform, and to find a bipartisan answer.

There have been a lot of new rules and proposals over the past few years that don’t exactly make sense at the farm level. I sometimes wonder how many of the people who make the rules have ever sat behind a tractor or milked a cow — or can honestly claim to have ever made the majority of their income from farming.

Fewer farmers

The American Farm Bureau Federation estimates farm and ranch families compromise just 2 percent of the U.S. population. Far fewer will ever make it to Washington, let alone become House members and Senators.

It’s a reality that not everyone who goes to Congress will have farming in their background. It’s great if they do, but times have changed and we have far fewer farmers doing a bigger volume of the farming.

Policy that works

But what we do need are members who are responsive to the realities of farmers. People who listen and ask questions and take that information back to the capitol. And people who understand — or try to understand — what works and what does not work, out in the heartland.

We hear about the needs of big cities and metropolitan areas all the time, and those areas are very important. But so, too, are the fly-over states. The fields of corn, wheat and soybeans, as well as specialty crops — grown all over this country.

“Agriculture is a core strength in the U.S. economy,” Pryor said. “We do it better than anybody in the world.”

You wouldn’t think that would be easy to forget, but it happens more than it should.

Chris Kick lives in Wooster, Ohio. An American FFA Degree recipient, he holds a bachelor’s in creative writing from Ashland University. He spends his free time on his grandparents’ farms in Wayne and Holmes counties.
Chris Kick
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