The Farm Bill: Supporting farming for food and industry

morgan griffithBy Morgan Griffith
Ninth District Congressman

I recently enjoyed a stop at the Virginia State Peach Festival, held in Stuart on August 16. For 31 years, the festival has been celebrating peaches and all their uses, from eating them on their own to enjoying them in a homemade cobbler.

Celebrating peaches is fun, but a lot of work goes into getting them to our tables, our lunchboxes, or even our festivals based around them. Producing all 6,500 tons of Virginia peaches (as reported in the last completed Census of Agriculture) requires selecting the right peaches for the local climate and soil, planting the trees every few years, tending them, picking them, and shipping them.

A farmer can make all the correct decisions and still not yield a valuable crop. The weather might turn bad, or market forces in other parts of the world might diminish the worth of the produce. Hard work goes into farming, but there are many factors beyond a farmer’s control that could determine his or her success or failure.

That’s why the farm bill is so important. Its policies support farmers so they can grow food for our country and the whole world.

Congress reauthorizes the farm bill roughly every five years. The House and Senate have each passed versions of the farm bill this year, and it is now in conference committee to work out the differences between them. It is one of the most important priorities facing Congress this year.

One of its objectives is to reauthorize crop insurance, which protects farmers against bad harvests while minimizing the risk to taxpayers. The House version of the 2018 farm bill largely maintains the crop insurance program, so farmers have stable federal policies. Corn, soybeans, wheat, and cotton make up the majority of covered crops, but the specific crops eligible for insurance vary by county; in 2016, for example, 926 acres of peaches in Virginia were covered.

The farm bill also strengthens policies to promote trade in farm products. The United States exports $140 billion in agriculture annually. Maintaining and strengthening ties to foreign markets will make sure farmers can sell their products across the globe.

The farm bill offers stability for the crops grown in Virginia. Pending the product of the conference committee, it may also provide new opportunity for a crop once common in Virginia but now banned from growing for commercial use: industrial hemp.

Hemp as a crop for industrial and manufacturing purposes has a lengthy history in Virginia. Among its growers in our past were Thomas Jefferson and George Washington, who even considered for a time replacing tobacco with hemp as a cash crop. It was the cash crop in some parts of Southwest Virginia at the time because the climate was too wet for growing tobacco. Henry Clay, the statesman born in Virginia who represented Kentucky in the House and Senate, championed American-grown hemp as part of the manufacturing base in the young United States.

During their time, hemp was most useful in making rope, but its applicability for industry in our time is much broader, from rope to shirts to components of automobiles. However, the federal ban on marijuana also ensnared industrial hemp, even though hemp cultivated for industrial use lacks the potency of marijuana, so hemp has been prohibited in the United States for decades.

It’s time for this illogical and unproductive ban to end. I am an original cosponsor of a bill to exclude industrial hemp from the ban on marijuana. The Senate version of the farm bill legalizes industrial hemp production, and I hope the final farm bill produced by the conference committee keeps this provision.

As you might imagine, the farm bill includes a vast array of provisions. I’ve previously written about reforms to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP), and there are numerous other pieces beside SNAP and the ones discussed above.

My goal in the farm bill is to support Ninth District farmers. The Ninth District of Virginia boasts a strong agricultural industry, but whether one farms or enjoys the products of farming, agriculture is important to all of us. That’s why we celebrate at events such as the Virginia Peach Festival.

If you have questions, concerns, or comments, feel free to contact my office. You can call my Abingdon office at 276-525-1405 or my Christiansburg office at 540-381-5671. To reach my office via email, please visit my website at www.morgangriffith.house.gov. Also on my website is the latest material from my office, including information on votes recently taken on the floor of the House of Representatives.

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