As chairwoman of the Senate Agriculture Committee Rural Development and Energy Subcommittee and USDA undersecretary for farm production and conservation, we’ve had the privilege of affecting policies and implementing programs that have helped farmers in Iowa and across the country.
It is vitally important that Congress and USDA strongly support our nation’s agricultural producers, the hardworking women and men providing all of us with the food, fuel, fiber and feed on which we depend. A safe and abundant food supply — food security — is paramount not only to our individual well-being but also to our collective national security.
That’s why the legislative branch approves and the executive branch, through the Agriculture Department, implements a Farm Bill every five years. The 2018 Farm Bill, which we helped shape and execute, included a number of provisions that made programs for farm loans, crop insurance and conservation more robust and expanded ones related to trade, research and agricultural extension, energy, specialty crops, organic agriculture, urban agriculture, beginning and socially disadvantaged farmers, and veteran farmers and ranchers.
We are particularly proud of a new program included in the 2018 bill that’s helping Iowa’s dairy industry: the Dairy Margin Coverage (DMC) program.
That risk management tool, which replaced the Margin Protection Program for Dairy, provides a safety net to dairy farmers when the difference between the all-milk price and the average feed cost, known as the margin, falls below a certain dollar amount selected by the producer. DMC has lower premiums and higher levels of assistance than its predecessor program.
Since it began in 2019, the DMC program has paid more than $10 million to Iowa’s 12th-in-the-nation dairy industry, or about $15,700 per operation.
We also helped Iowa farmers and farmers across the nation weather the volatility in markets caused by retaliatory foreign tariffs on their products — levies prompted by President Donald Trump’s efforts to get freer and fairer trade — and, more recently, deal with disruptions from the coronavirus pandemic through the Market Facilitation Program and the Coronavirus Food Assistance Program.
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Combined, those programs have gotten about $3.2 billion into the hands of Iowa agricultural producers. (Farmers still can sign up for the food assistance program through Dec. 11 by contacting their local USDA office.)
When farmers around the country were hit with natural disasters, as they were in Iowa with flooding in the spring of 2019 and from a derecho this past August, funds were appropriated and programs were implemented to help them recover.
After the derecho damaged an estimated 14 million acres of Iowa cropland, for example, USDA initiated a special signup through the agency’s Environmental Quality Incentives Program to help manage the crops and replace structures such as high tunnel systems and livestock building roofs.
USDA also worked with farmers on options for replacing or repairing storage sites through Farm Storage Facility Loans and for offsetting eligible losses through disaster assistance programs such as the Wildfire and Hurricane Indemnity Program Plus — which also covers excess moisture and drought — the Livestock Indemnity Program, and the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program.
We have dedicated ourselves to helping sustain farmers — particularly during these challenging times — and we’ve both worked hard to improve our rural communities through such programs as USDA’s Reconnect Broadband Pilot Program. Created by Congress in 2018, the program initially received $600 million for grants and loans for local communications companies to bring high-speed broadband infrastructure to rural America; it got another $550 million last year. In Iowa, USDA so far has provided more than $36 million to communities around the state.
These policy victories, along with our farm programs, helped boost farm income by $16 billion over the past nearly four years, following a more than $36 billion decline from 2012 through 2016.
As farm kids and lifelong Iowans, we have devoted a significant part of our lives to serving the state’s agricultural producers. We feel fortunate that we’ve been able to do this, and we will continue doing all we can to ensure our farmers — in Iowa and across the nation — are able to produce the food, fuel, feed, and fiber America and, indeed, the world needs.
Joni Ernst is a U.S. senator from Iowa. Bill Northey is a former Iowa agriculture secretary and was nominated in 2017 to join the U.S. Department of Agriculture.