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National Sorghum Producers spent the last week of March 2023 on Capitol Hill educating legislators about sorghum priorities for the 2023 Farm Bill.
This new year marks the dawn of the 118th session of Congress, and to ensure bipartisan support for U.S. agriculture and the sorghum industry, dozens of sorghum growers have already ventured to our nation’s capital to advocate on behalf of the sorghum industry.
These efforts are especially important in 2023 as policy makers begin to draft a new farm bill, and doubly so, considering about 40 percent of House lawmakers are newly elected to the chamber since the 2018 Farm Bill became law. That’s nearly 200 Representatives in need of rapid education of meaningful farm policy!
That’s why National Sorghum Producers leaders spent the last week of March on Capitol Hill, elevating farm bill priorities for the nation’s sorghum farmers early in the legislative process in addition to disaster assistance priorities, regulatory issues and expressing support for trade, renewable energy and research. NSP conducted policy meetings with various Members of Congress in both the House and Senate as well as committee staff for both House and Senate Agriculture Committees.
They also met with the USDA Foreign Agricultural Service to discuss challenges and opportunities for new agricultural markets as well as the Natural Resources Conservation Service where NSP members provided personal on-farm stories of how sorghum remains climate and water-smart in production systems while emphasizing flexibility in federal conservation programs remains a priority.
Finally, throughout these discussions, NSP also highlighted recent industry victories and significant advancements in sorghum nutrition and institutional market access, such as inclusion in USDA’s Food Buying Guide for Child Nutrition Programs just last summer.
The Food Buying Guide is the essential resource for food information for all child nutrition programs, like school lunches, in the U.S. Whole grain sorghum is naturally gluten-free and an excellent source of 12 essential nutrients, like protein and iron, which are important for child health and development. That’s a powerful pairing of local markets near local production that benefits children, our schools, sorghum growers and taxpayers.
State sorghum associations have also complimented NSP’s advocacy in D.C., adding volume and building new relationships with policymakers and staff. In February, Kansas farmers Andy Hineman and Brant Peterson met with Members of the Kansas congressional delegation through Syngenta’s Leadership at Its Best class, representing NSP as members of the Kansas Grain Sorghum Producers Association.
The Texas Grain Sorghum Producers Association also held its annual meeting in Washington, D.C., in March, meeting with members of the vast Texas congressional delegation and engaging in discussions with the U.S. Agency for International Development Bureau of Humanitarian Assistance, USDA FAS, and the NASA Earth Science Division.
These discussions have also extended out from Washington, D.C., into the countryside. NSP’s immediate past chairman Kody Carson, a farmer from Olton, Texas, delivered remarks to a House Agriculture Committee Farm Bill Listening Session in Waco, Texas, that included Congressman Ronny Jackson (TX-13) and Congressman Tracey Mann (KS-01), friends of our industry who represent prominent sorghum districts.
So far in 2023, sorghum advocacy efforts have delivered a clear and consistent message: market volatility, inflation, higher input costs and lower projections for crop cash receipts are only adding to the stress and uncertainty of harsh and unpredictable weather throughout the Sorghum Belt.
Growers are fortunate and thankful to have tools like crop insurance and congressionally-authorized disaster assistance available to help stay afloat, but due to the severity of these challenges, a stronger federal Title 1 farm safety net under a meaningful and robust farm bill is desperately needed to provide adequate resources to allow predictability and certainty for years to come.
The issue: there is a major shortfall in safety net spending compared to historical levels. Investing in the safety net now could avoid costly ad-hoc spending and fill gaps in the next 10 years. For context, the 2008 Farm Bill had a Title 1 baseline of $85 billion. Adjusted for inflation, that figure would be roughly $121 billion in 2023 dollars compared to the current Title 1 baseline of $62 billion. And in context of the entire federal budget as the House Agriculture Committee recently estimated, the farm safety net—commodity programs and crop insurance combined—is projected to only account for a mere two-tenths of one percent of federal spending in a 10-year window of 2024 through 2033. That’s why, for now, all eyes are on the budget.
In the weeks and months to come, NSP will continue to fiercely represent its members in Washington, D.C., as committee hearings are called, opportunities arise and threats from interests hostile to the American farmer certainly begin to surface. The civic engagement of our grower leaders and NSP membership at both the state and national levels remains the cornerstone of successful policy outcomes to advance the sorghum industry forward in this critical year and for years to follow.
This story originally appeared in the Spring 2023 Issue of Sorghum Grower magazine.