Owens disappointed by Farm Bill rejection

The House’s rejection of the Farm Bill has left lawmakers and agricultural leaders reeling.

The bill was rejected by a 195-234 vote, and it remains unclear whether a new one will be written by the House or if the House will vote on the Senate’s version of the bill.

Rep. Bill Owens, who represents the North Country in Congress, said he disagreed with some of the amendments to the Farm Bill but still voted in favor of it.

“I was disappointed that an amendment was adopted during floor consideration in the House to strip out a key provision of the dairy policy reforms included in the bill,” the Democrat from Plattsburgh said, referring to the Dairy Security Act.

The Dairy Security Act, which was replaced by the Dairy Freedom Act, would have replaced the Dairy Product Price Support Program, the Milk Income Loss Contract and the Dairy Export Initiative with a voluntary margin protection program designed to stabilize the market and keep farmers’ profits stable. It also placed limits on milk production when there is an oversupply of milk.

The Dairy Freedom Act allows farmers to buy margin insurance, a program that pays them when the national margin, calculated as milk price minus feed costs, drops. It doesn’t include regulations on milk production.

“Unfortunately, if the bill moves forward with this change, the new safety net created will be significantly weaker, particularly for small farmers,” Owens said. “It is my hope that future versions of the Farm Bill include stronger protections for dairy farmers as well as less dramatic reductions in the SNAP programs.”

SNAP refers to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the food aid for low-income people that was previously called food stamps. Even though another amendment to the Farm Bill would have reduced SNAP funding to $20.5 billion over the next 10 years, many Republicans took issue with it because it SNAP still took up about $80 billion of the $100 billion in the bill.

Owens said SNAP is an integral portion of the Farm Bill because it links the needs of urban communities with those of agricultural communities.

“Without the SNAP program’s inclusion in the Farm Bill, I believe it would be difficult to make the case to members from urban regions about the needs of ag communities,” Owens said. “I am optimistic for the future, however, as interest continues to grow in New York products and locally sourced foods. New York has a number of rich offerings like apples, maple, wine and dairy products that rely on good farm policy but also engage people in rural areas. Over time, I do believe we can develop greater interest in the work farmers do across the region.”

Owens added that several aspects of the Farm Bill would have benefited North Country farmers.

“There are a number of provisions in the House Farm Bill to support both local food systems and small and beginning farms, which I strongly support,” Owens said. “These include things like enhanced risk management through the crop insurance program for beginning farmers, increased access to farmers markets for SNAP beneficiaries, and reauthorization of programs to improve direct producer to consumer market opportunities and development of local food system infrastructure.”

Contact Shaun Kittle at 891-2600 ext. 25 or skittle@adirondackdailyenterprise.com.