Reps. Brad Finstad and Michelle Fischbach form advisory committees to study farm bill issues
Congress has experienced a lot of turnover since the last farm bill was passed, and Reps. Brad Finstad and Michelle Fischbach are among the new lawmakers gearing up for their first bill.
The 2018 Farm Bill expires on Sept. 30, 2023, and lawmakers are hard at work studying the issues that are important to farmers.
Congress has experienced a lot of turnover since the last farm bill was passed, and Reps. Brad Finstad and Michelle Fischbach, both Republicans from Minnesota, are among the new lawmakers gearing up for their first bill. We talked to them to learn how they're getting ready by forming advisory committees.
"I'm a fourth-generation farmer from southern Minnesota, and I've been watching farm and ag policy forever," said Finstad. "And I just know for it to be done well, it needs to be something that is done by the farmer, for the farmer, and really, by rural America, for rural America."
Finstad said that he wanted to create a committee that could help him understanding the policies that are "keeping these folks up at night"
"It's bringing everybody to the table that I could think of that could offer good opportunities of discussion and advice, and really direction," he said.
Finstad said there are around 20 farmers on the committee as of right now, but more are being added. He said that most of the farmers are from southern Minnesota.
He said most of the farmers belong to organizations including Minnesota Farm Bureau, Minnesota Farmers Union, Farm Credit Administration, Minnesota Soybean Growers, Minnesota Corn Growers, Minnesota Biofuels Association, Minnesota Turkey Growers, Minnesota Milk Producers, Minnesota Pork Producers and more.
"With a lot of those statewide organizations, we went out and tried to say, alright, do you have some members in southern Minnesota that we could have come to the table," he said.
Finstad said he's learning from the group on what should be included in the upcoming farm bill, including the safety net, which he called the "cornerstone of the farm bill."
"What we kind of heard right away in our first meeting was that the current farm bill is a pretty good starting point, and so that was comforting for me to know that we don't need to throw the current bill out and start from scratch," said Finstad.
The risk management component of the farm bill is what farmers on the committee told Finstad was important to them, he said.
"Specifically crop insurance, that's really the No. 1 risk management tool that producers see as an important part of the farm bill," said Finstad.
Farm and food security is also a priority, according to the committee.
"Farm and food security is national security, and the farm bill is that opportunity to really strengthen and solidify farm and food security," said Finstad.
Finstad is the fourth-generation on his family's farm, and his wife is fourth generation on her farm.
"My brother and I and our families are currently farming the farm, corn and soybeans," said Finstad of his farm near New Ulm. "It's about 700 acres of corn and soybeans."
He said he's happy to have the fifth generation in his kids to be raised on the farm.
"I like to tell people that my senior in high school can do every job on the farm, pretty much with his eyes closed," said Finstad.
As the representative for Minnesota 7th District, which stretches the length of western Minnesota from north to south, Fischbach has a lot of ground to cover.
To help her cover that ground, Rep. Fischbach set up an agriculture advisory committee — two of them, in fact, north and south — for input on the diverse industry that dominates the rural district.
“We have the opportunity to sit down, talk about things and potentially come up with solutions or ideas,” Fischbach said. “And I think it's just a good conversation is what we're really looking for.”
Those conversations have included workforce challenges, the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Emergency Relief Program, trade issues, and, of course, the farm bill that is up for renewal in Congress this year.
The workforce discussions has helped make reforming the H-2A visa program for foreign agriculture workers part of Fischbach’s agenda.
By using Zoom video conferencing, Fischbach was able to bring in Rep. Glenn “G.T.” Thompson of Pennsylvania, who now chairs the House Agriculture Committee, on which Fischbach has a seat.
“Crop insurance, that's a common theme through many of the groups,” Fischbach said. “That and making sure that the disaster programs, that they're consistent, that they aren't changed every single time there's some kind of need for disaster programs; making those more permanent and transparent so that they don't change every single time. “
Fischbach also sits on the Rules Committee, which could be in passing a farm bill.
In his bid to get elected as House speaker, Rep. Kevin McCarthy negotiated allowing the bill to be amended under an “open rule,” meaning that amendments could be added on the House floor.
But Fischbach said that isn’t necessarily a done deal. The farm bill will go through the Rules Committee before it goes to the floor, and that committee may be able to limit the number of amendments offered, which improves the chances of it surviving.
“I actually think GT (Thompson) will come up with a pretty darn good bill,” Fischbach said. “He is really doing his due diligence and making sure that he is talking to everybody.”