Farm Bill Will Hurt, Not Help, Local Farmers

Wyoming farmer Theresa Shaw lays out why the 2018 Farm Bill is a bad deal for local farmers.

This letter-to-the-editor by Theresa Shaw ran in the Sheridan Press on May 15th, 2018.

Farmers and ranchers are a diverse group of people that disagree on a lot of issues, but we’re all interested in having a market for our products. Whether raising livestock or growing crops, we need to know that someone is going to buy from us at a fair price.

Prices of many agricultural products don’t even cover the cost of production, and the U.S. is currently in the midst of the greatest farm crisis since the 1980s. It’s no surprise that the agricultural profession has the highest suicide rate in the nation.

In the midst of all this gloom, here comes the 2018 Farm Bill. The goal of the Farm Bill is basically to ensure a safe and abundant food supply for the nation, which includes working to enact policies that keep producers in business. While skeptical, farmers and ranchers hoped Congress was paying attention and would respond with a bill that actually helps independent producers.

Goats graze on fresh grass at Shiloh Valley Family Farm in Sheridan, Wyoming.

That was not the case. The House version of the Farm Bill disappoints on a number of levels, but the most egregious piece is the amendment from Rep. Steve King, R-Iowa. His “Protect Interstate Commerce Act,” would eliminate most state and local laws regarding the production of agricultural products. These are laws and ordinances passed democratically in our state legislatures and county commissions around the country. According to King’s website, he argues that this legislation “is designed to end unconstitutional efforts by some states to regulate the means of production of agricultural goods in other states.” This is a clearly incorrect and misleading statement. State laws requiring certain standards of production do not regulate how other states do it, only whether it can be sold in that state. Basically, if a law or ordinance regulates an agricultural product that is also produced in another state, it can be overthrown by the federal government. Haven’t we been through this kind of thing before with the GMO labeling argument? So much for states’ rights.

Invoking the Interstate Commerce Clause to justify the federal government’s interference in states enacting their statutes is a far stretch, indeed. As an attorney, Larry Wolf, stated in The Sheridan Press May 10, “The dormant Commerce Clause is not intended to stop all exercises of state regulatory or tax power. Just those that have a clear basis in trying to assist the economy of the regulating state at the expense of other states.” States making their own statutes regarding standards of food production don’t favor an individual state, simply the process by which the food product is produced.

Wyoming agricultural producers who may differentiate themselves by producing premium product to meet the consumers demand in states that expect higher quality food will no longer have this market opportunity. Our own state would be unable to manage its own food supply in accordance with the wishes of our people and be forced to accept the lowest common denominator foisted upon us by larger agribusinesses from other states.

What’s really perplexing about King’s amendment is that he claims to be a defender of states’ rights. He was a member of the 10th Amendment movement and in 2010 stated, “The inclusion of the 10th Amendment in the Bill of Rights was a means by which our Founding Fathers intended to stop the destructive reach of a growing federal government.” (Forbes, Dec. 9, 2013)

Needless to stay, his amendment is an about-face. It strips local control in favor of the ever-consolidating reach of agribusiness corporations. Laws that protect consumer choice and food safety are absolutely within our rights to enact, and King’s amendment is a perfect example of federal overreach.

The House Farm Bill won’t help Wyoming producers, and the inclusion of King’s amendment will certainly hurt us. The decades of work we Wyoming producers have put into differentiating our products will be for nothing. We need to tell the House of Representatives to dump this bill.

Learn more about WORC’s stance on the 2018 Farm Bill.

Theresa Shaw of Shiloh Valley Family Farm is a local farmer and a member of the Powder River Basin Resource Council.