Congressional hearings on 2018 farm bill planned this weekend in Michigan.

It’s months away, but members of congress are already taking input on the new farm bill, due in 2018.

The Senate committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry is in Michigan tomorrow (Friday) to tour conservation projects in the Bay City / Saginaw area.

And then on Saturday (tomorrow) the committee will hold a hearing in Frankenmuth on the farm bill.

CMU Public Radio’s Ben Thorp spoke Thursday with Michigan Senator Debbie Stabenow. She’s the ranking member of the senate Ag committee

(Sen Stabenow) What we’re doing is getting ready to write the next farm bill which has to be done next year, in two thousand and eighteen, and so to prepare for that we want to take a look at what has worked, improvements we can make. We in Michigan grow more diversity of crops than any other state other than California. We have a lot at stake in terms of protecting our land and water and forests and air and so on. So I always like to say that when I wrote the last farm bill Michigan was on every page, and now we’re coming in to hear from producers and conservation leaders, nutrition leader on Saturday. And tomorrow we’re going to have a chance to show our new chairman Senator Roberts up close what we care about in Michigan, including protecting our water.

(BT) So it sounds like right now we’re trying to get a sense for what worked in the last farm bill, what we want to change, and what are some of the new things that have developed over the past couple years. Is there anything that you kind of have on your radar right now?

(Sen Stabenow) The big thing for me on my radar screen is that while the agricultural policies in general that we put in place in two thousand and fourteen are working for Michigan growers, we have a problem in the dairy sector. Prices are way down and the dairy safety net is not working for our farmers, and so I want to make sure we fix that. That’s a top priority for me. And then I want to make sure that we are strengthening our local food program. There’s this tremendous support and enthusiasm for farmers’ markets, which we expanded in the last farm bill. We want to keep doing that in local food programs so that folks can buy locally grown, locally support small farmer. But I’m also anxious to hear more about something new we did which was to support veteran farmers. That we changed the farm bill so that support for our new and beginning farmers including veterans. An awful lot of folks coming back from serving us and the armed services are coming back either to small towns or farms, or want to go into agriculture. And we have a very active Michigan veteran farmers group that we’re anxious to hear from.

(BT) I know that we we’ve talked a lot about how there’s an aging population in the farming community. What do we have as far as things to incentivize new farmers here in the state?

(Sen Stabenow) Well we have a big focus on new and beginning farmers. I mean often times that’s passing a farm down from one generation to another, but we have a lot of new people that are interested in going into small operations or medium size operations. So we give them extra support through discounts on crop insurance, other kinds of technical assistance and help. And our veteran farmers are a group that we now are very focused on. People who are coming home want to be involved in agriculture and food production and they deserve that extra support as wel.

(BT) Is there anything else you think is important to mention about your current work on the farm bill?

(Sen Stabenow) Well let me just say that in the budget that we’re now passing, we also had a major victory to protect the Great Lakes. Because the Trump administration proposed cutting the Great Lakes protection fund this year, and then they’ve proposed eliminating the entire Great Lakes Restoration Initiative for next year. So first round, we were successful in stopping cuts. Now we have to re-engage because the next fight is making sure they don’t eliminate the funding in next year’s budget.
That is separate from the farm bill but frankly very close in terms of what is done. Because under the farm bill conservation programs, we’re doing a lot on water quality and cleaning up or Lake Erie algae blooms or other challenges with our waters we use farm bill conservation dollars and we use other important dollars from the Great Lakes fund so these work together in partnership and we need both of them.

The Agriculture committee’s first field hearing on the 2018 farm bill is slated for tomorrow, beginning at 10am at the Saginaw Valley Research and Extension Center in Frankenmuth.

You can listen to the proceedings live HERE.