Michael Scuse, USDA’s acting deputy secretary, came to Ohio last week to stimulate discussion on the Farm Bill and take Ohio viewpoints back to Washington. Scuse served as secretary of agriculture in Delaware before coming to USDA in 2009. His family still operates 1700-acre farm in Delaware. Scuse met first with the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation for a Town Hall radio interview. Then he toured the Wilma H. Schiermeier Olentangy River Wetland Research Park with Bruce McPheron, dean of the College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences. Finally he sat down with farmers and ag leaders at the Shipley Family Dairy Farm in Newark.
“USDA touches every single person in the United States every day in one way or another,” Scuse said while fielding questions at the OSU wetlands. “We need to find ways to communicate to the consumers. It’s not just food. It’s clothing and fuel and energy. What we do is too often taken for granted. Americans have the most abundant, cheapest and safest food supply in the world. And we need to educate the consumer. They need to better understand the role USDA plays in their everyday lives.”
Scuse said the department is pleased that ag committees in both the House and the Senate have crafted a new Farm Bill for the next five years. He is hopeful the House will pass a bill in the next week or so and the Senate will conduct hearings in late June.
“I am hopeful a conference committee will meet before the end of the summer and we get a new Farm Bill by September. We need a Farm Bill and we need one sooner rather than later.”
Scuse listed USDA and the Obama administration’s priorities for such a final version:
Preservation of a safety net for farmers;
Promotion of rural development;
Maintain a strong nutrition program;
Provide funding to support trade.
Farmers need a safety net, he emphasized. “Look at what crop insurance did for them last summer. We insured $116 billion work of crops and paid out $17 billion in indemnities. That’s how you keep farmers on the land and keep them in production. As we saw last summer, farmers can do everything right and still be exposed to the whims of nature.”
Scuse noted that while both versions of a Farm Bill include significant cuts for the budget, the administration is backing the House version which chops less from the nutrition programs that make up about 80% of Farm Bill spending.
Alexander Bolton, who writes for “The Hill,” recently noted that Democrats see passing the Farm Bill and courting rural voters as crucial for the coming election. He quotes Dan Glickman, former secretary of agriculture under Bill Clinton as saying that Democrats need to voters that government can have a positive impact on their lives. Passing the Farm Bill would be an important step.
“It shows that in the area of agriculture the Congress can operate in a bipartisan manner. It’s really one of the most bipartisan pieces of legislation,” Glickman said. “Anything that can be done in a bipartisan way helps build trust and that should help the Democrats.”
Last year both chambers of legislature also passed Farm Bills out of committee and they went nowhere. Given the lack of trust that still exists in Congress, one would have to be skeptical that this one will be turned into law. Look for more visits from Washington to the Heartland as the administration ratchets up the pressure on Congress.