SALINA — “It’s more important than ever that we get a Farm Bill, because that provides us with a safety net for a lot of the obstacles that we’ve (Kansas farmers) got to overcome,” Rich Felt, president of Kansas Farm Bureau, said Saturday.
Felts and Kansas Gov. Jeff Colyer visited Salina Saturday to speak with the Salina Journal and to attend a Republican Party picnic at The City teen center.
The federal Farm Bill is renewed every five years. The current bill expires at the end of September and the U.S. House and Senate are scrambling to get on the same page.
The House version of the Farm Bill, which was passed 213-211 in late June with no Democratic support, would essentially make eligibility stricter for federal programs such as the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or food stamps.
Their version would require those who receive SNAP to enroll in job training programs, work at least 20 hours a week or risk having benefits cut.
“The big question, I think, is going to be how we address the food and nutrition part, because there are some significant differences there between the House and Senate,” Felts said. “A lot of pressure is going to be on that conference committee as they go forward and do their work.”
The House version of the bill also contains more cuts and changes to conservation programs than the Senate version.
Tariffs no good
The Farm Bill supports the the Conservation Stewardship Program, the Environmental Quality Incentives Program and the Conservation Reserve Program, which protects marginal farmland from production for wildlife and natural habitat.
The House bill would eliminate the Conservation Stewardship Program while making overall cuts to other conservation programs.
Over the past several months, Trump has placed tariffs on some of Kansas farmers' biggest trade partners in Canada, Mexico and most recently China.
Felts said those tariffs, especially affecting soybeans exported to China, can have a drastic effect on Kansas producers.
“Personally, we raise quite a few soybeans in southeast Kansas,” he said. “There are some challenges, because the magnitude of the dollars that we lose out from trade, it’s hard to make that up with any type of subsidization. We really need the markets.”
Felts said despite China getting all of the attention when it comes to tariffs, “I think it’s imperative that we get some discussions going with our neighbors, Canada and Mexico.”
“We’ve got to have some ‘wins’ when we have these tariff discussions to get the will of the people back in support of what’s going on,” he said. “We’ve got to get our corn to Mexico. There are a lot more at stake than just our producers. We look at the grain companies (and) the railroad lines that are a fix to Mexico.”
Colyer said the state has worked with Kansas producers on “opening new markets.”
“For example, I brought in the consul general from Japan, Indonesia and a number of other countries that represent over a billion people” he said. “They are looking for great products and Kansas farmers — we’re the best in the world, we have a better product and we can produce and be a stable partner.”
The state, Colyer said, is also working with Kansas Farm Bureau on ways to “enhance” the value of Kansas produce.
Colyer earlier this year signed SB 263, which will create an industrial hemp pilot program in Kansas.
“There’s some value there, so we’re working with a number of the universities and doing research and I think it’s been a good start for us,” he said.
In April, Colyer visited Salina to sign a bill creating a task force that will map locations across the state where broadband connectivity is problematic and develop plans for addressing those needs.
“What that represents is the opportunity that agricultural producers have access to better information, but it also means that our rural communities can grow,” he said. “That’s really important to us, that everybody has access to world-class technology.”