Tour exposes U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids to peril of political delay in finishing new farm bill

Kansas constituents reinforce value of crop insurance, food nutrition programs

By: - September 16, 2023 10:16 am
U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, a Democrat seeking reelection Nov. 8 against GOP nominee Amanda Adkins said Adkins lack credibility on economic issues because she endorsed Gov. Sam Brownback disastrous tax policies. (Margaret Mellott/Kansas Reflector)

U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids, a Kansas Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, conducted a listening tour of the 3rd District to gather input on farm and food priorities of the new five-year farm bill to be negotiated by Congress this fall. Two of her objectives are to improve crop insurance and food nutrition assistance. (Margaret Mellott/Kansas Reflector)

TOPEKA — U.S. Rep. Sharice Davids’ agriculture tour in her eastern Kansas district included a Miami County no-till crop farm, a poultry and livestock operation in Anderson County, the Johnson County organic vegetable business, a Franklin County cooperative and a community educational farm in Wyandotte County.

It was a stop at the Garnett dairy owned by Christi Ratliff that put into better focus the detrimental economic forces that come into play if Congress didn’t thoughtfully, promptly renew the nation’s five-year farm bill this year.

Baseline goals of the original farm bill during the 1930s were the production of an adequate foot supply, fairness in pricing for consumers and farmers, and protection of the country’s natural resources. Details and the cost of farm bills evolved over the years, but core objectives remain for the agriculture production and food distribution law implemented by the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

“On my last tour stop, I visited a dairy farm in Garnett,” said Davids, a member of the House Agriculture Committee. “It’s owner, Christi Ratliff, mentioned the negative impacts her business would feel if a farm bill was not reauthorized. Not passing a farm bill means farmers would lose access to so many crucial USDA programs that help them make daily decisions.”

Davids, who serves the 3rd District in eastern Kansas, said consequences of inaction — some Republicans demand billions of dollars in cuts — could come quickly for the dairy industry. Federal financial support for dairies could be curtailed and the supply chain for milk, cheese and other dairy goods could be disrupted.

“That’s why I’m committed to working with my colleagues on both sides of the aisle to get this bill across the finish line,” Davids said.

Clock is ticking

The farm bill passed in 2018 is due to expire in 2023. That unwinding process would start Sept. 30 at close of the federal fiscal year and conclude by year’s end. Hard-right Republicans want to slash the bill’s anticipated price tag and impose new work requirements on low-income participants in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program. Spending on the typically bipartisan bill could exceed $1 trillion for the first time.

The law not only drives farm income and the types of food grown in the United States, but covers programs ranging from crop insurance for farmers to food aid for about 40 million low-income Americans. Funding in the bill would be applied to sustainable agriculture practices, research and extension, rural development, farm credit, agriculture-related energy issues and beginning farmer training.

Davids said her priorities during negotiations on the 2023 farm bill would include protection of crop insurance and support for programs to help Kansas farmers move products into global markets. She said sustaining farmer and rancher access to agriculture credit and federal loans was important.

“Many of the agricultural professionals I spoke with throughout my tour pointed out the importance of federal crop insurance provisions in the farm bill, so I’m making strengthening the program a top priority,” Davids said.

Davids visited Black Bob Elementary School in Olathe to speak with students who rely on the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, as a primary source of healthy meals.

“SNAP protects around 190,000 Kansans from going hungry each year. I am going to continue working with both Republicans and Democrats to ensure Kansas don’t go hungry,” the congresswoman said.

She planned to advocate for expansion of education programs and agriculture research through universities such as Kansas State University in Manhattan. In addition, she intended to work on policy to moderate gasoline prices by making use of locally grown corn in the manufacturing of ethanol.

Root of issues

The Republican-led Kansas Legislature recast the state’s four congressional districts ahead of the 2022 elections and added rural counties to Davids’ district.

“I immediately joined the House Agriculture Committee and made it my mission to learn from as many Kansas agricultural professionals as possible,” she said. “During the farm bill reauthorization process and beyond, I will continue supporting policies that will benefit Kansas producers and the millions of people around the world they feed.”

Kansas also has U.S. Rep. Tracey Mann, the 1st District Republican, on the agriculture committee in the House.

“I think that’s a huge benefit and we’ll definitely use that to our advantage when advocating for Kansas farmers, ranchers, producers and business owners,” Davids said. “The farm bill is normally a very bipartisan piece of legislation, and I’m confident that will continue this year.”

Special interest and general agriculture 0rganizations such as the Kansas Farm Bureau and Kansas Farmers Union welcomed Davids on her road trips.

Donn Teske, president of the Kansas Farmers Union, said Davids chose well by including on the listening tour at visit to KFU state board director Rosanna Bauman’s family operation at Cedar Valley Farms.

“The Baumans are the perfect example of true family farming, and of everyone pulling in the harness together to better their farm and their community,” he said. “The farm bill discussions should be focused on ensuring such family farms can thrive and prosper in the  years ahead.”

Joe Newland, president of Kansas Farm Bureau, said the tour was the type of exercise that promoted farm bill bipartisanship in Washington, D.C. First-person explorations by Davids provide a deeper understanding of how important the farm bill was to a “safe, affordable and abundant food supply,” Newland said.

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Tim Carpenter
Tim Carpenter

Tim Carpenter has reported on Kansas for 35 years. He covered the Capitol for 16 years at the Topeka Capital-Journal and previously worked for the Lawrence Journal-World and United Press International.