Farmers Ride Into D.C., Push Safety Net in 2018 Farm Bill

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By Teaganne Finn

Don’t cut programs that benefit rural communities and family farmers, National Farmers Union members told officials this week at the group’s “Fall Legislative Fly-In.”

Preserving the Farm Safety Net Program tops the NFU’s list of talking points for its Sept. 10-13 event, where more than 300 farmers have been meeting with Department of Agriculture officials, lawmakers and House and Senate Agriculture committees’ staffers. Other priorities include access to affordable health care; a transition to homegrown, renewable energy; and country-of-origin labeling.

Scott Kolousek, a South Dakotan cattle rancher, was part of a group that met with Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) and two aides to Sen. Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.).

“They were very receptive,” he told Bloomberg BNA.

The safety net provides risk protection and financial support to U.S. farmers. These programs were included in the 2014 farm bill, and the NFU wants all of them included in the next one, NFU President Roger Johnson said in a press release.

“The men and women who feed and fuel our nation need the support of their elected leaders,” said Johnson, who cited a 50 percent drop in farm income over the past four years.

Among others, the programs the NFU wants protected provide relief for farmers struggling with low commodity prices, offer crop insurance, provide increased access to credit, and support agriculture mediation programs.

Limited Health Care Access

Kolousek said he and his wife don’t live too far from a hospital or clinic, but others aren’t so lucky.

“Another couple we’re with lives 60 miles from the nearest hospital in western South Dakota and it’s on the verge of closing,” Kolousek said. If that happens, the next closest hospital would be three hours away, he said.

The NFU says 58,000 adult farm injuries are estimated to have occurred in 2014. The NFU wants more support for rural hospitals and a more stable health insurance system where companies aren’t allowed to cherry pick profitable marketplaces.

“Farming and ranching are high-risk occupations and if we lose small-town hospitals we’re at risk of having to drive long distances for quality healthcare,” Kolousek said.

The current health care initiatives that are working for families include Medicaid, tax credits and subsidies, and protections for individuals with pre-existing conditions, he said.

The NFU’s main goal is to maintain what programs farmers already have, and stress to lawmakers how much rural America is hurting right now, Kolousek said.

“We cant lose anymore of what we have and need to ask them to do their best to help us,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: Teaganne Finn in Washington at tfinn@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at phendrie@bna.com

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