Three generations of farmers got a visit from U.S. Sen. Tom Carper last week at Johnson’s Country Market, with an opportunity to discuss the impact the expiration of the Farm Bill will have on Delaware. On Sept. 30, current 2008 Farm Bill programs expired, reverting many laws to “depression-era agriculture policy,” according to Carper — including costly subsidies. The senator is continuing to urge leaders in the House of Representatives to take action on the 2012 Farm Bill.
Carper noted that the Senate, in June, had passed a bipartisan long-term Farm Bill that would “reduce the deficit by $23.6 billion, eliminate wasteful spending and provide farmers with a critical safety net.” Provisions in the legislation include “language to prioritize research to improve feed choices for the poultry, livestock and food production industries and to help safeguard conservation resources for Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts.”
In July, the House Agriculture Committee approved a bipartisan long-term Farm Bill, but, thus far, House leaders have declined to bring the measure up for a vote.
“Businesses need certainty and predictability,” said Carper. “It is deeply disappointing that, following a summer marked by a devastating drought and historically high temperatures, farmers, growers and businesses in Delaware and across the nation are facing further harm and uncertainty as dozens of critical programs that help support our agricultural community expire,” said Carper.
“Unfortunately, the expiration of these critical programs did not come as a surprise, and, in fact, it could have been prevented if only House leaders voted on a bipartisan, long-term extension of the Farm Bill,” he added. “An expired Farm Bill is bad for our farmers, consumers and our nation’s economy. I urge House Leaders to do the responsible thing — take up and pass a Farm Bill soon.”
“The House will be back after the election,” Carper noted, adding that, for “reasons that baffle me,” they did not pass a strong bipartisan bill, such as the Senate did in June. They also did not act on a postal service reform bill the Senate passed — something Carper has also been very outspoken about, saying this week that there were some tough votes to make before the election.
“Hopefully, they’ll make the tough choices once the election is over,” he said. He surmised they just wanted to go home to concentrate on campaigning and would reconvene after Nov. 6. “Time will tell if that’s the right approach.”
Keith W. Johnson — who now co-owns Johnson’s with his two brothers, Henry Clay Johnson IV and Glenn Johnson, after the sons bought into the partnership with their father, Henry Johnson III, who was already a third-generation farmer — said parts of the Farm Bill will affect them more than others. He explained that their farm operation consists of grain, hogs and the country market, an agri-tourism aspect of the business. They also had chickens up until about 2006.
The brothers spoke openly with Carper about the challenges of farming today. They spoke of the state’s nutrient management plan and how voluntary guidelines, such as those, are encouraging to a farmer, as opposed to mandates.
Carper said that they had tried to get the EPA to accept what the Nutrient Management Commission was doing, adding that some of the regulators had never been put in place on a farm before.
“You make a good point,” said Keith Johnson. “It would be nice if those that are regulating agriculture had an agricultural background.”
Henry Johnson IV said, “It is a hard pill to swallow when you are demanded to do something that you know will be decimating to yourself and to the industry.”
Carper noted, though, that the other side of the coin is in trying to maintain the health of the Chesapeake Bay. They “want those they think are contributing to the problem to be involved in the solution,” he said.
According to officials, the Senate’s 2012 Farm Bill would institute a new crop insurance program by getting rid of the so-called direct payments program, giving farmers and growers the security they need to continue their trade but at a much lower cost to the American taxpayer. It focuses on encouraging farmers to grow — and getting people to eat — more healthful foods and invests in conservation efforts that are considered particularly critical to regions such as the Chesapeake Bay.
The Senate Farm Bill also includes legislation — which Carper introduced earlier this year — that would “support the expansion of products made in this country from bio-based materials. These renewable materials can be used to replace petroleum in plastics, which not only reduces reliance on foreign oil but also protects the environment and creates new jobs in local communities throughout the nation, including those in Delaware.”
Last week, Carper and his colleague Chris Coons (both D-Del.) wrote to Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and National Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) Chief Dave White, urging them to support farmers, growers and businesses in Delaware and throughout the Chesapeake Bay watershed during the interim period since the expiration of the Farm Bill authorization on Sept. 30.
For a full text of that letter, visit www.carper.senate.gov. For more information on Johnson’s Country Market — including their upcoming Family Fun Day, to be held Oct. 20, complete with food, fun, games and hayrides — go to johnsonscountrymarket.com or visit them on Facebook. They will also be holding their flashlight maze on Oct. 26 and Oct. 27 from 6 to 9 p.m.