SANBORN—US Representative Randy Feenstra continued to plow along with his Feenstra farm tour, speaking to constituents during a stop in rural O’Brien County.
The tour is a prelude to the Farm Bill, which will begin making its way through Congress in the summer. Legislation is reauthorized every five years as a catalyst for federal agricultural policy.
“We want to have listening sessions, and that’s what we have today,” Feenstra said. “What do we want to see in the Farm Bill? What can we put in the Farm Bill that would make a difference in western Iowa?”
The Hull Republican visited Alpha Ag Research on Wednesday March 15th.
Director Corey Rozenboom introduced the congressman.
“Where we are here in Sanborn is ground zero for agriculture, corn and soybeans,” Rozenboom said.
Alpha Ag Research was founded in 2011. It contracts with growers to test crops and technology at its facility southeast of Sanborn. Rozenboom said businesses like his are essential to the long-term future of the area’s agriculture-based economy.
“My proposal is that we can support businesses in O’Brien County and Northwest Iowa with strong, good-paying jobs,” Rozenboom said.
A couple dozen people attended the event.
Kevin Knapp is a board member of AMPI, a large cheese cooperative with a plant in Sanborn. He asked Feenstra about the dairy margin coverage.
DMC allows individual dairy farmers to protect up to $5 million. It was introduced in the 2018 Farm Bill. Voluntary risk management programs for other commodities are a key part of the legislation.
“When the price of milk goes down and if your costs are high, it helps to close that gap. Last year we never received any payment because the price of milk was good, there was no need. This year, it’s a totally different story,” Knapp said.
He said dairy farmers would like to see the limit doubled to $10 million.
“Sometimes we get into the mold of talking about cattle and hogs, but dairy is huge in this area,” Feenstra said.
The congressman is a particularly central figure in the Farm Bill. In January, he was assigned to the House Ways and Means Committee, which handles taxes. Combined with the position he already holds on the House Agriculture Committee, Feenstra has a formidable influence on how federal dollars are spent on agriculture.
Meatpacking consolidation was another important topic in the morning forum. Several people asked if anything could be done about the Big Four (Tyson, JBS, Cargill and Marfrig) who control more than 80 percent of feedlots.
Jim Boyer, an independent hog farmer, drove over an hour from Emmet County.
“It’s complicated because there are two sides to every story. There are those who want something and those who don’t want something,” Boyer said.
Outside of the Farm Bill, Feenstra has been pushing the legislation along with fellow Iowa Republican Senator Chuck Grassley, seeking to put independent meat producers on a more level playing field. The duo signed the Cattle Price Disclosure and Transparency Act with a bipartisan group of other legislators.
Feenstra said there should also be support for small pork producers.
“We are trying to address it. The Farm Bill can, and we’re looking at that,” she said. “We need more independent packers. This is how we compete. If we want capitalism, let’s have more packers.”
He went on to say that startup costs are the biggest barriers to getting smaller plants off the ground.
“By the time they do that, one of the big packers will lower their price and try to put someone else out of business or things like that. To me, there have to be controls on what can and can’t be done so that doesn’t happen,” Feenstra said.
Nutrition assistance, such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, is the largest part of Farm Bill spending. The category accounts for about three-quarters of the $428 billion of the 2018 version.
The Democrats involved in the legislation, who are in the minority in the House of Representatives but occupy the Senate, have made protecting food safety their primary focus for now.
“We have to figure it out. The key is that we have a debt of 30 trillion dollars, so we can not expose this. We have to keep it within its limits,” Feenstra said. “When 82 percent are SNAP programs, which, SNAP programs are good, but how can we make them more effective? How can we make them more efficient?”
The details are still months away from being discussed. Feenstra reiterated that shutdowns like the one at Alpha Ag Research are vital to him in the run-up to the legislative process.
The enactment of any bill in this Congress will require a bipartisan push and the approval of President Joe Biden, so it will be a balancing act, Feenstra said. He called it a bill that must pass regardless of who is in office.
“We want to make sure that our agenda is included in the Farm Bill,” Feenstra said. “We are the second largest agricultural district in the country, the fourth district is, that is why it is so important.”