U.S. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack is scheduled to testify before members of the Senate Ag Committee this week, including Iowa Senator Chuck Grassley.
Vilsack, a former Iowa governor and a Democrat, is pushing through policies at U.S.D.A. which Grassley says will make it difficult to pass a bipartisan Farm Bill. Grassley, a Republican, says Vilsack discussed the continued consolidation of farming at the agency’s Ag Outlook Forum. “Even with record farm income, almost half of our farmers have negative farm income. We know that the largest 10% of the farms receive 70% of the commodity payments,” Grassley says. “That’s unacceptable.”
Grassley says he’s pursuing payment cap legislation which targets farm programs specifically to small and medium-sized farmers.
“Along this line, the words ‘actively engaged in farming,’ a legal term, is very important,” Grassley says. “USDA has the ability to tighten the rules on those, whether or not they’re actively engaged. If they aren’t actively engaged, they shouldn’t be qualifying for payments.”
Grassley says they need to find ways to make the farm safety net work for all farmers, not just the large ones. He says the U.S.D.A.’s Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities, a program championed by Vilsack, is a departure from the agency’s earlier efforts to focus on small farmers. “Not-so-small companies like Microsoft, Campbell’s Soup, and Hershey’s have all been rewarded by this new program that the U.S.D.A. created,” Grassley says, “and keep in mind that U.S.D.A. created this program without input from Congress.”
Grassley says Vilsack’s actions, which he says include increasing the price of SNAP by 250-billion dollars, will put hopes for swift passage of the Farm Bill in jeopardy. The Senate Ag Committee hearing is scheduled for 8:30 a.m./Central on Thursday.