AT a time when increasingly more political decision-makers understand little about production agriculture, it was refreshing to listen to nomination hearings last week for two top policy-makers at the U.S. Department of Agriculture.
Each grew up on a farm and can appreciate the balance required to walk the fine line today between proper government intervention and farming.
It was heartwarming to see Krysta Harden, nominee for USDA deputy secretary, get slightly choked up when she said what her new title would be. Harden called herself a "product of rural America," growing up on a diversified farm in Camilla, Ga., where her parents carried on a long family history of agriculture. Her father grew up raising tobacco, fruits and vegetables, and her mother grew up on a traditional row crop farm with a cow/calf operation.
In her opening statement, Harden said she believes "we owe agriculture a commitment to sound policy." She admitted that when it comes to regulatory burdens on farmers, practical approaches that sound good on paper in the office do not always make good sense on the ground. Like most farm kids, she said she would get an "earful from Daddy" if a rule doesn't match up with reality.
Harden said when she graduated from the University of Georgia, she didn't see how there would be opportunity for her in rural America, so she moved away despite her deep appreciation and love for home.
The same sentiment holds true for young people today, which she said "is unfortunate, because anyone who wants a stake in the future of agriculture or rural America should be offered a viable chance to do so."
Harden will be an important advocate for helping rural America thrive.
Farm bill friends
The stalled farm bill reiterates the growing disconnect from the farm.
More than half of all Americans, 55%, live in cities with a population of 1 million or more. Although 25% of the population lives in rural America, less than 2% is actively involved in farming.
Of the people's chamber — the House of Representatives — only 60 members have any meaningful portion of their district in a rural area or any significant number of farmer constituents.
So, it's no surprise that the fate of the farm bill really lies in the hands of city folks who don't realize what's at stake. Today, I would say the biggest obstacle to passing a farm bill isn't Speaker of the House John Boehner (R., Ohio), who many blamed last year; instead, I think it lies squarely on the shoulders of House majority leader Eric Cantor (R., Va.).
Rep. Marcia Fudge (D., Ohio) met with Cantor last week prepared to make concessions on food stamp cuts. She was originally opposed to the $20.5 billion in nutrition cuts but sought to have some of the controversial amendments pulled. She came out of the meeting with a sense that Cantor doesn't want a farm bill.
In recent weeks, 20 Republicans, mostly conservative, have been meeting with House leaders and House Agriculture Committee chair Frank Lucas (R., Okla.) to try to settle on a nutrition bill, but Lucas said it may be an impossible task.
In an exchange on the House floor last Thursday, Cantor told minority whip Steny Hoyer (D., Md.), "It is not accurate that we don't intend to eventually go to conference and iron out the differences between the House and Senate on both of those issues, on the ag policies as well as the nutrition policies."
Actions speak louder than words, however. Republican leaders need to move forward on conferencing the farm bill before the August recess, or the bill will continue to languish.