North Country Ag advocates gear up for Farm Bill fight

Every five years, Congress debates a huge piece of legislation that has a disproportionate impact on rural places like the North Country. It’s the Farm Bill, a $100 billion a year hodge-podge to fund everything from crop insurance to food stamps.

In the past, New York has often been on the margins of the Farm Bill debate in Washington, taking a back seat to the Midwestern states of the “bread basket,” like Iowa and Illinois. Monday in Watertown, state agriculture officials launched a series of hearings to help make New York more central this go-around, at a time when the Trump administration is seeking big cuts. 

More than 50 people came to speak in favor of the myriad programs the Farm Bill funds. Photo: David Sommerstein

Should it be called the “Farm and Food bill”?

The farm bill is really a misnomer. It’s about much more than just agriculture. At Monday’s hearing, state ag commissioner Richard Ball ticked off a list of programs the legislation funds – “conservation, nutrition, research, forestry, energy, horticulture, disaster assistance,” among them, said Ball. In fact, the nutrition part – food stamps, food banks, emergency help for people who are hungry – that’s 80% of the Farm Bill.

Ethan Billman, district 6 president of FFA, urged lawmakers to support agricultural education. Photo: David Sommerstein

Tina Cobb of the North Country Prenatal/Perinatal Council says when she staffs outreach booths, people come to praise the nutrition programs the Farm Bill provides. “Women were crying and saying, ‘we don’t know if we would survive without these benefits’,” Cobb told the gathering of about 50 people in a meeting room on the Jefferson County faigrounds, “so I think it’s really important that we keep that in mind as we look at the agricultural bill.”

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