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Members of Congress considering federal farm bill

Terry Nelson prepares a combine for corn harvesting Tuesday at Johnson Farms in DeKalb. Nelson has been working for Johnson Farms for a combined 27 years.
Terry Nelson prepares a combine for corn harvesting Tuesday at Johnson Farms in DeKalb. Nelson has been working for Johnson Farms for a combined 27 years.

Farmers like Paul Taylor will face uncertainty in planning for the future of their business without a farm bill in place.

Taylor grows corn, soybeans and lima beans on a 750-acre farm in Esmond. With the last federal farm bill set to expire at the end of the month, farmers like Taylor are hoping Congress can reach an agreement on future farm and food-stamp policy soon.

“We’ve got a lot of work ahead of us and there’s no assurance it will happen,” he said.

The farm bill, which sets national farm and food policy every five years, provides funding for a variety of agricultural and nutrition programs. Farmers receive financial assistance that protects them when excess crop supplies drive down market prices, as well as a crop insurance program that protects against financial losses if their crops are destroyed. 

The farm bill marries federal farm policy with the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, commonly known as “food stamps,” with the idea of intertwining the interests of lawmakers representing urban and rural areas.

Members of Congress currently are considering a new farm bill. Democratic and Republican lawmakers are conflicted on how to control spending in the food stamp program, which costs more than $70 billion a year. 

U.S. Rep. Adam Kinzinger, R-Channahon, said that although he has some issues with the farm bill, he thinks Congress members will eventually agree on passing it. He said it’s important that it is passed soon because there is a need for a safety net for farmers and citizens. 

“We just need it to get done,” he said. “...And it looks like it will.” 

Several local farmers think the proposed farm bill needs significant changes. Taylor said he would like to see a new farm bill rather than an extension on the current one, but considers that unlikely.

Bob Johnson, one of four owners of Johnson Farms, said the farming industry has thrived in recent years, and some of the agricultural assistance the farm bill now provides isn’t necessary. Johnson’s own farm produces corn, soybeans and raises pigs. 

“I’m not sure personally why we need all the services the Department of Agriculture provides for us,” he said. 

One service Johnson said is not necessary any more is the direct subsidies that farmers receive to help them sustain their business. Although the farming business is doing well, federal subsidies often
end up going to landowners anyway, he said.

Johnson said he also thinks the crop insurance is a good program, but the bureaucracy that comes along with it is not efficient enough.

More than 48 million Americans are on food stamps, said Ross Fraser, spokesman with Feeding America. Fraser said Feeding America, which is a national association of food banks in the nation, is deeply concerned about any cuts made to the food stamp program.

Food banks already are struggling to keep up demand, and cuts to the food stamp program would cause more people to seek help, he said. 

“Since the recession started, the amount of people coming to us have skyrocketed,” he said.

The public interest is served by having a reliable food supply and having farmers stay in business, said State Rep. Robert Pritchard, R-Hinckley.

He said that just like with legislation on school funding in Illinois, the federal farm bill should have been passed awhile ago for him. Farmers are going to have to make fiscal decisions without having a program in place, he said. 

“That’s never a good thing, whether we’re talking about education or agriculture,” he said. 

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