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Mike's Blog

Insights from the President of ProAg

“For What It’s Worth”

by Mike Connealy on 05.03.2013

Back in 1966, fledgling entertainer and songwriter Stephen Stills (yes of Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young fame) pitched a song to a record producer by allegedly saying, “I’ve got this song here, for what it’s worth, if you want it.”  Somehow the song was titled as “For What It’s Worth” and went on to become named one of the top 100 songs of all time by Rolling Stone Magazine. It was subtitled and better remembered as “Stop, Children What’s That Sound?” Stephen Stills and his band members (including a young Canadian guy named Neil Young) released the song in early 1967 as members of Buffalo Springfield.
 
This reminds me of my blog writing skills and target audience, “I’ve got this article here, for what it’s worth, if you want to, you can read it.” So, here goes my update on the status of the 2013 Farm Bill. In order to make it easier to understand, we can go back and study a few of the lines in the above referenced Buffalo Springfield classic:
 
There’s something happening here
What it is ain’t exactly clear
 
Based upon press releases by leadership of the House Ag Committee (HAC) and the Senate Ag Committee (SAC) we are going to see, during the month of May, both Ag Committees mark up their version of a 2013 Farm Bill. HAC Chairman Frank Lucas (R. Oklahoma) and SAC Chairman Debbie Stabenow (D. Michigan) are both setting the stage for their committees to pass a version of the 2013 Farm Bill and apparently, both have been promised floor time before the full House and full Senate to debate, consider amendments and vote. The rhetoric on the Senate side from Majority Leader Harry Reid (D. Nevada) has been specific that the Farm Bill was going to be brought forward. The House, which blocked a 2012 Farm Bill by not bringing to the floor, has many members saying that “leadership has promised floor time for the Farm Bill”. Speaker John Boehner (R. Ohio), when cornered by actual Ohio consituents of his that are involved in farming, conceded that a Farm Bill was worthy of floor time on the House. In my opinion, the Speaker tends to blame Majority Leader Cantor (R. Virginia) when pressed about why the 2012 Farm Bill failed. Again, in my opinion, the House leadership is the weak link to bringing a bill to fruition. Whether Mr. Cantor can gather a “majority of the majority” or decide that he does not need one, and then have a debate on the House floor about a 2013 Farm Bill, well “it ain’t exactly clear” to this writer.
 
There’s battle lines being drawn
Nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong
 
The announcements from the HAC, SAC and leadership have led to a blitz of media mis-information efforts from the opponents to the crop insurance program and production agriculture.  As predicted in my last blog,  Heritage Action for America came out with “stop the Trillion Dollar Farm and Food Stamp Bill”. They are a bit tacky using e-mail to lobby in that they ask for you to click on a button to “donate now” to help them stop this legislation. The EWG prepared a hatchet job specific to crop insurance using their version of “self serving facts”. They attempt to convince everyone that crop insurance is the “root of all evil” (Big Ag) when it comes to modern agriculture in the USA. Fortunately, most of the informed HAC and SAC members are wise to the EWG ways and ignore the rhetoric when it comes time to actually vote on issues and amendments. This does not mean that there are not numerous members that are likely to be opposed to enacting a 2013 Farm Bill. Senator Flake (R. Arizona) and Senator Coburn (R. Oklahoma) both come to mind. Coburn authored the premium subsidy cut for “rich farmers” in 2012 and we can expect it to surface again. Conservation compliance tied to premium subsidy remains a potential administrative nightmare that might survive if we make it to a Presidential signature.
NCIS on behalf of the crop insurance industry plus informed ag groups such as the corn growers, wheat growers, etc. are attempting to counter the media blitz from the various naysayers such as EWG. The extent to which we can all keep on the same page, citing the real facts and moving forward with a common goal will determine our success or failure with a 2013 Farm Bill.           
 
A thousand people in the street
Singing songs and carrying signs
Mostly say, hooray for our side
 
We may not have a thousand people in the street, but we surely do have a thousand lobbyists in Washington walking the halls of Congress plus working the USDA. No doubt “hooray for our side” is the constant message if we can get it to be heard though all the noise. In addition the Twitter nation and tools like Facebook are flooded and will continue to be inundated with rhetoric attempting to sway the public plus those members (if any) on the fence. This means that it is imperative that those of us in the crop insurance space have to be active in the social media. My Twitter account follows every known opponent of crop insurance that can be found. We have to know what the opposition is saying in order to shape our message on why we are right and they are wrong. The fact is that we live in the year 2013 A.D. and things are much different now (than even in 2009) in reaching the masses – we cannot allow ourselves to be outworked or outfoxed by the opponents to production agriculture. We have a great success story in crop insurance and we need to tell it effectively in order for it to be renewed.
 
Paranoia strikes deep
Into your life it will creep
It starts when you’re always afraid
 
There is hardly a day that goes by when I am not asked about the status of the Farm Bill and what are we going to do if one does not pass soon. Another question concerns what if we get a “bad” Farm Bill. The answer to the first inquiry is that there can always be another extension if nothing actually happens in 2013. There are agencies within the US government that are operating on their 3rd or 4th extension due to the fact that the votes could not be generated to give them a solid long term game plan. This is certainly possible with the Farm Bill based upon the potential for flare ups in the House and Senate. We could get to the end of this calendar year and see another “modified extension” of the current law. My guess is that “direct payments” will not survive another extension and hence the term “modified”.
 
A greater concern would probably be a “bad” Farm Bill as defined by “our side”. This is why we must be diligent in telling our story and aware of what the “other side” is doing.  We should expect that we might see proposals to eliminate or at least materially alter every major component of the Farm Bill. When the battle lines are drawn, we need to make sure we have a coalition of informed interest groups in place to ensure that the best “Farm Bill possible” moves forward. The opponents will attempt to gain ground by sparking “infighting” where one commodity is pitted against another, the classic attempt to have “the south” go against “the north”  or perhaps crop insurance interests take on conservation groups. We cannot allow this to happen; to do so would make it easier for our common opponents to move their agenda forward while we are engaged against each other. Politics at this level is not pretty, it requires patience and understanding, and we need to be thoughtful as we move our agenda forward. There will be more than a few “highs and lows” as this process takes place. We need to keep it on the high road and tell the positive aspects of our story. Understand that the “other side” will seem at times to have momentum and that amendments will be offered that include everything up to and including “elimination of crop insurance as we know it today”. We take nothing for granted, we can’t be frozen by paranoia or fear, and we press on and understand that the foundation we have spent years building is not easily fractured by naysayers.
 
Stop, hey, what’s that sound
Everybody look what’s going down
 
Hopefully, by August or September of this year, we will have seen the system work its way to the end result. The HAC and SAC will have conferenced a 2013 Farm Bill and each chamber voted for final  passage. In a White House ceremony, we will see the likes of a smiling Senator Stabenow and equally pleased Congressman Lucas standing behind President Obama as he takes a pen with his left hand and signs a “good 2013 Farm Bill”. When you are watching this take place, you can hum a few bars and think “everybody look what’s going down”…       

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