The Eastern New Mexico News - Serving Clovis, Portales and the Surrounding Communities

Farm bill adds protections for dairies


December 16, 2018

The 2018 Farm Bill was approved by the Senate and House of Representatives last week in Washington D.C., adding increased protection for dairies and prioritizing conservation practices.

“In New Mexico, our farmers, dairy producers, and ranchers help drive the state’s economy and are an integral part of our history,” U.S. Sen. Martin Heinrich, D-New Mexico, said via press release. “The 2018 bipartisan Farm Bill will provide certainty for rural New Mexico and boost our state’s dynamic agriculture economy.”

The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 87-13 on Tuesday and the House approved the bill 369-47 on Wednesday.

It now goes to President Trump; The Associated Press reported he is expected to approve it.

Roosevelt County Agriculture Agent Patrick Kircher said the Farm Bill provides important stability for farmers and ranchers.

“I haven’t studied all of the ins and outs to know exactly how it will impact (local farms). In generalities, having a Farm Bill makes things more stable. You have a baseline to know where government support is and isn’t. When you don’t have one, it leaves some uncertainties,” Kircher said.

If approved, the bill replaces the one approved in 2014. It includes an expansion to the Conservation Reserve Program with a focus on water conservation, something Curry County Commissioner Seth Martin said would benefit the region.

One change, sponsored by U.S. Sen. Tom Udall, D-New Mexico, established the Dairy Margin Coverage Program, which will provide insurance to dairies when the difference between the milk sale price and average feed cost falls below a certain margin. Kircher said that could provide some relief to the dozens of dairies located in Curry and Roosevelt counties.

“New Mexico is the seventh-largest milk-producing state in the country, and eastern New Mexico is the engine of our dairy industry,” Udall wrote in a message to The News. “That’s why I fought to include an amendment in the Farm Bill that will modernize the Margin Protection Program to make it work for our dairy producers by allowing payments to be triggered at a higher margin — opening the program to producers of all sizes, and expanding the amount of production that can be covered.”

“The problem we’re in right now is milk prices are below break-even cost of production so farms are burning through equity right now just to stay in business,” Kircher said. “So anything like that where you can give them some kind of support is definitely beneficial, not just here but nationwide.”

Udall also introduced the Farmers of Tomorrow Act, which modifies the USDA’s requirement that farmers and ranchers must have three years of experience before receiving loans.

In a message to The News, Udall wrote that financing for beginning farmers and ranchers was one of the issues that came out of a series of roundtables with New Mexico agriculture leaders.

“(This bill) will help folks interested in getting their start in agriculture — from returning veterans to those who are switching careers or don’t have a degree in agriculture — get access to U.S. Department of Agriculture farm ownership loans,” Udall wrote. “New Mexico has one of the oldest average ages for farmers in the country, and with this Farm Bill, we’ll open doors for the next generation of farmers and ranchers to continue strengthening our agricultural economy in Eastern New Mexico and across the state.”

Kircher said that’s a pretty common point of discussion in the ag sector — the average age of producers is increasing steadily and in order to maintain the industry, “You’ve got to have some younger folks get into the business.

“So anything that can be done to encourage that I think is a good thing.”

Another big change included in the new Farm Bill will legalize hemp production. Kircher said he’s not sure how much of an impact it will have locally, but he’s curious to see how legal hemp production will affect the ag industry nationwide.

“I really don’t know where the long-term results are as to how much business is really there, if it’s an emerging crop that can benefit lots of folks or if it’s going to be a niche market with a small impact. But it’s at least interesting to see what all happens from that addition,” Kircher said.

One item not included in the Farm Bill — an increase in work requirements for recipients of SNAP, or Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program.

“Labeling it as a Farm Bill when it’s more directed to those SNAP programs is a little misleading to the general public,” Martin said. “When they hear Farm Bill they think all this money is going to farmers, and it’s not. And there is a need for those programs, but there should be a requirement to collect those benefits,” Martin said.


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