Kansas First District Rep. Roger Marshall speaking during a House Ag Committee
FIELD HEARING: Kansas First District Rep. Roger Marshall (left) speaks during a House Ag Committee Field Hearing in Texas on Aug. 2.

Marshall says House Ag Committee hears deep concern about economy

Depressed commodity prices are taking a toll on farmers, lenders and Main Street businesses, congressman says.

Kansas Rep. Roger Marshall, who is a member of the House Agriculture Committee, was with his fellow committee members as they held field hearings on the 2018 Farm Bill in Texas and Minnesota during the first days of August.

On Aug. 3, he shared some of his observations from those three days of hearings and farm visits and said he will be holding 10 town halls in Kansas during the August congressional recess to get a better idea what Kansas farmers want to see in the bill.

“We have had three hearings so far, and there have been 400 to 500 people at each of those hearings, which have typically been about three hours each,” he said. “We are hearing some of the same concerns everywhere centered on the economy and low commodity process across the board. We’ve heard from farmers, lenders and Main Street businesses, and they are telling us that the downturn is beginning to cause a lot of stress on the industry. They are telling us about the importance of trade and about crop insurance as a valuable risk management tool.”

Marshall said that rural infrastructure, especially water and sewer and high-speed internet, were also mentioned multiple times in every geographic region.

He said regional issues, including citrus greening in Florida, sugarcane aphid infestation of sorghum in Texas and viruses affecting sugarbeets and turkeys in Minnesota, all illustrate the importance of a robust research title.

Marshall said he heard some talk about putting caps on payments from crop insurance, but he thinks that would be counterproductive.

“I think if you put caps on payments, you will wind up with some of the bigger producers deciding not to buy insurance, and removing those operations from the risk pool would cause problems for the entire system,” he said.

Marshall said Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue has expressed interest in being “very involved” in the farm bill process and said the committee has been engaged with Perdue in farm bill discussions.

He said Chairman Mike Conaway is “totally committed” to getting a bill across the House floor by the end of this year and has made it clear that he wants everyone working toward that goal.

“Everywhere we have been, we have heard farmers say that trade is important to their operation. We need very much to get those bilateral trade agreements made. Japan just raised the tariff on U.S. beef from 38% to 50% because of the end of TPP [Trans-Pacific Partnership].”

Marshall said there is strong support to enforce trade agreements, and he has heard concerns about noncompliance with existing agreements such as the World Trade Organization, especially where China is concerned.

He expressed confidence that cotton producers will get help in the next farm bill, with cotton very likely to come back to Title 1.

On the topic of nutrition, Marshall said he thinks those who suggested separating nutrition from the farm bill have “their thoughts stuck in a different era, maybe even a different century” and that nutrition and agriculture are closely related and need to be linked in the legislation.

“I have a fellow freshman congressman from Philadelphia that I have gotten to know on the committee, and he is well aware of the nutrition needs in his community. He understands the need for a strong farm bill,” Marshall said.

On another topic, the congressman said the process for getting more appointments to undersecretary and staff position in USDA and in the office of the U.S. Trade Representative needs to be expedited. So far, Perdue is in place as Secretary of Ag and Robert Lighthizer has been confirmed as USTR. But dozens of staff jobs remain unfilled.

Finally, Marshall said that immigration reform is critical to make it possible for agricultural businesses to hire more workers.

“Kansas has 20,000 open jobs and is desperate for workers,” he said. “We need a more streamlined visa process that lets people stay longer than a few months. The lack of workforce is having a huge impact on the economy.”

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