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Sen. Tuberville meets with Alabama producers to discuss Farm Bill legislation

Office of Sen. Tommy Tuberville

U.S. Senator Tommy Tuberville traveled across Alabama recently to discuss incoming legislation that could impact how farmers make a living. Tuberville visited Bay Minette, Headland, Boaz and Millbrook last week as part of a two-day tour to discuss the 2023 Farm Bill, which is a package of legislation that is reconsidered every five years.

Tuberville, alongside Alabama Commissioner of Agriculture and Industries Rick Pate, held listening sessions in the four locations. During the sessions, local producers expressed their concerns and how the bill could be revised to better fit farmers’ current needs.

Mitt Walker is the director of governmental and agricultural programs for the Alabama Farmers Federation. Walker said the biggest topic for discussion was financial insurance to protect farmers’ livelihoods against adverse circumstance.

“The main issue that we look at in the Farm Bill is ensuring that farmers have the risk management tools available through crop insurance and what we call Title I [Crop Commodity] Programs to help them manage some of the risks on the farm from weather to trade disruptions to pricing,” Walker said. “Essentially what a Farm Bill does is it provides a safety net for the producers here in this country.”

Another topic of concern among farmers was the rising cost of production.

“Over the last two years, input costs have risen dramatically for farmers,” Walker said. “Everything from fuel to fertilizer, all these inputs that go into producing a crop have risen. That’s where our Farm Bill comes into play. Reference prices is another one of the areas we’re hoping to update in this Farm Bill to make it more reflective of the input costs that farmers are dealing with today.”

Farmers also discussed the continuation of a feral swine eradication program, which was written into the most recent Farm Bill as a pilot program. Walker said farmers and landowners across the state are seeing more and more damage to crops thanks to feral swine. He said the Farm Bill could be used to provide additional funding to help combat these issues.

In addition to input costs, poor weather and wild pigs, Alabama farmers also contend with worker shortages. Walker said many farmers across the state have turned to foreign workers to fill in these labor gaps. This is thanks in part to the U.S. government’s H-2A Temporary Agricultural Workers program. Walker said while the newly revised Farm Bill will not address labor shortages, it will address other farming risks.

It is not just producers who benefit from the 2023 Farm Bill. Walker said the bill also addresses consumer needs. Roughly 80% of Farm Bill spending will cover funding for the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and other nutrition support services for low-income families that lack access to healthy, affordable food.

“At the end of the day, the winner, I think, of a Farm Bill is the American consumer,” Walker said. “We’ve got the safest, most affordable food supply in the entire world. A lot of that has to do with the fact that farmers have a safety net there to help them weather those tough years, when things are, frankly, out of their control. It could be hurricanes, droughts, you name it. The cards are stacked against farmers every year when they go out to plant a crop and the Farm Bill just helps them be able to weather those storms.”

Above all else, Walker said this month’s listening sessions will help Sen. Tuberville more effectively advocate for Alabama producers and consumers before the federal government later this fall.

“I think anytime an elected official can hear directly from their constituents on an issue like a Farm Bill to better understand how it affects them on an individual basis is really important,” he said. “It’s great to read the articles and keep up with the headlines, but when you hear directly from your constituents about something like a Farm Bill, I think it really helps Senator Tuberville and his staff be more prepared to be able to advocate for those issues that are important to farmers here in the state.”

Congress is currently on recess for the remainder of August. The Senate will return on Sept. 5 and both chambers will be in session by Sept. 12. However, Alabama’s current Farm Bill expires on Sept. 30. Walker said the Alabama Farmers Federation hopes the Senate and House Committee on Agriculture can get their bills, including Alabama’s 2023 Farm Bill, filed and moved out of committee by next month.

“There is a chance that Congress may have to pass a short-term extension in order to get the new bill across the finish line,” Walker said. “I think, realistically, we’re looking at later in the fall to get a bill to the floor. So, still a lot of work to do. I hope the committees can get busy in September and at least get them voted out of committee and [be] prepared to go on the floor for a final vote later this year.”

Readers can learn more about last week’s listening sessions by visiting Sen. Tuberville’s website.

Joshua LeBerte is a news intern for Alabama Public Radio.
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