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The House Agriculture Committee July 31 held a farm bill listening session, “Conversations in the Field,” at Angelo State University in San Angelo, Texas.

Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, R-TX, and Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-MN, were in attendance, along with Reps. Jodey Arrington, R-TX; David Rouzer, R-NC; Glenn Thompson, R-PA; Rodney Davis, R-IL; Roger Marshall, R-KS; and Darren Soto, D-FL.

Secretary of Agriculture Sonny Perdue was scheduled to attend the listening session but was called back to Washington to attend a cabinet meeting following the appointment of Gen. John Kelly (Ret.) as the new White House chief of staff to President Donald Trump.

Conaway said he was disappointed Perdue couldn’t attend, but, “Those of you who have bosses understand that when the boss calls, you gotta go do what the boss says you gotta go do.”

In a three-hour long flurry, dozens of farm industry leaders, nutrition and hunger advocates, and citizens not representing anyone other than themselves were given two minutes to express themselves on the upcoming markup of the farm bill, which is set to expire Sept. 30, 2018. The members of Congress asked no questions or offered comments during the session.

The farm industry leaders spent most of their time discussing cotton issues, the primary issue being the return of cotton to the farm bill’s commodity title. Cotton subsidies had been removed from the farm bill following the U.S. loss to Brazil in a 2014 World Trade Organization dispute panel’s decision that stated the U.S. cotton program had injured Brazilian farmers due to global market interference.

The subsidies ended and in their place came the Stacked Income Protection Plan, which has been roundly criticized for not properly protecting farmers in a time of record low prices.

The comments of Dan Smith, a Lockney, Texas, farmer and member of the Texas Farm Bureau board of directors, was typical of what was said.

“You better start worrying about guys like me. Therefore, you better start worrying about the entire industry,” Smith said. “I am not kidding you. Our backs are to the wall. We’ve got to have some help. Cotton has got to be a Title 1 commodity.”

The farm leaders also called for the continuation of most of the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s portfolio of programs, including those for crop insurance, conservation and foreign market development and promotion.

One interesting highlight of the listening session was hearing the wide variety of crop leaders featured, including those for olives, which are relatively new to the state, and for hemp, whose proponents have long been attempting to convince the nation’s political class that hemp is not a hallucinogenic drug but is a crop that can be used for a multitude of uses.

Hemp seed can be used in health foods, organic body care, and other nutraceuticals. Hemp fibers and stalks are used in clothing, construction materials, paper, biofuel, and plastic composites.

Meanwhile, the nutrition, homeless, and hunger advocates sought to continue the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, better known as food stamps; school nutrition programs and federal commodity distribution programs.

Toward the end of the session, Conaway said he wants to bring the bill to the floor of the House in fourth quarter 2017. Conaway also repeated what Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Pat Roberts, R-KS, said recently that he, too, wants to start the farm bill debate before the end of the year and that Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-KY, had said “the sooner the better.”

Following the listening session, Conaway said, “Agriculture is the lifeblood of Texas, and the stories we heard from farmers and ranchers today strike at the heart of why we have a farm bill. The farm bill underpins the entire rural economy, an economy that has been under tremendous strain over the past four years.

“Improving economic conditions in farm country is instrumental in ensuring that Americans continue to enjoy the safest, most abundant and most affordable food and fiber supply in the world. I appreciated hearing from Texas farmers and ranchers today, and I am eager to take their input back to Washington as we continue crafting the next farm bill.”

Added Peterson: “It was great to be in Texas with Chairman Conaway to hear directly from the region’s farmers and ranchers on what is, and maybe isn’t working, in the current farm bill. The committee can use the input we gathered today when we go back to Washington to write a new bill. I thank everyone who took the time to come out and share their opinions

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