July 14, 2018, will mark 30 years since President Reagan visited Southern Illinois to tour Herman and Betty Krone’s drought-ridden farm just outside Du Quoin. He saw with his own eyes the devastating impact that a lack of rainfall can have on crops and a family farm dependent upon them.
President Reagan’s visit to Southern Illinois was a turning point that would come to affect every farmer in the United States. When he returned to Washington, he challenged Congress to work out a solution to assist those whose livelihoods had been affected by drought conditions. The resulting agricultural policies are what have come to be known today as the “Farm Bill.”
In the run-up to the 2018 Farm Bill, I was determined to hear from a wide array of Southern Illinois stakeholders on what they feel is working in agriculture policy and what needs to be changed. I attended the Farm Progress Show in Decatur last August, held constituent meetings across my district, and participated in numerous House Agriculture Committee hearings.
What I heard from these conversations is that rural America is hurting. With net farm income dropping by more than 50 percent over the past four years, the agricultural economy has experienced its largest four-year percentage drop since the Great Depression. Now more than ever, we need a Farm Bill to address the challenges facing agriculture and all of rural America.
This year’s legislation directly addresses the concerns I heard from Southern Illinois farmers and ranchers about volatile commodity prices and their ability to plan from planting to harvest. The legislation protects the farm safety net, including commodity programs and crop insurance. The Farm Bill also incorporates my bipartisan bill, the BALE Act, to modernize the FSA Guaranteed Loan Program so beginning farmers, ranchers and agricultural producers have access to credit to expand or diversify their operations.
As our agricultural economy grows, we will become more dependent on access to fast and reliable internet connectivity for more efficient management of crops, water, conservation and livestock. The Farm Bill provides strong incentives for providers to offer quality broadband service to underserved rural areas, like Southern Illinois. Greater access to broadband will benefit our entire community, including small businesses and local schools.
Farmers know more than anyone the importance of improving soil health and reducing nutrient runoff through conservation practices. They are stewards of the land. It’s where they live, work and raise their family. Farmers I talk to in Southern Illinois want to use cover crops and take other steps to improve soil health and be more sustainable, but need more flexibility. The Farm Bill addresses this problem and includes my bipartisan legislation that allows for Certified Agronomists and Crop Advisers to be Technical Service Providers for nutrient management purposes. This eliminates red tape and allows farmers to work more closely with those who know their operations best.
A vitally important part of the Farm Bill is the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), commonly known as “food stamps.” It is essential that we preserve this program for the most vulnerable in our society who truly depend on it for their next meal. We also have an opportunity to connect individuals with economic opportunity by preparing them for success in today’s workforce and supporting them on the way to achieving the American dream.
The Farm Bill contains a provision that would involve 20 hours per week of work, looking for work, or participation in a job training program by able-bodied, working age adults without dependents in order to qualify for the program. We take special care to ensure the elderly, a caretaker of a young child, those who are pregnant, those who are mentally or physically disabled, and those who live in an area with limited work opportunities are exempt from this work requirement and would see absolutely no change in their benefits. In other words, no individual would see their benefits affected if they are working, looking for work, training for work, or unable to work.
There are benefits to Southern Illinois on almost every page of the Farm Bill, and I look forward to getting this bill over the finish line and signed into law. Long before President Reagan stepped foot on the Krones’ farm in Du Quoin, another American president, Dwight D. Eisenhower, said, “Farming looks mighty easy when your plow is a pencil and you are a thousand miles from a corn field.” Those words still hold true today, and as we worked through this year’s Farm Bill, it served as a great reminder that farming is everyone’s bread and butter.