Spring is here. Tractors are rolling, planters are planting and farmers are farming.
But, according to Richard Guebert, Jr., president, Illinois Farm Bureau, this spring is bringing more than just the normal spring planting routine for farmers — it also is bringing a third consecutive year of low commodity prices and high input costs for farmers across the country.
Guebert, who testified Wednesday before the House Agriculture Subcommittee on Biotechnology, Horticulture and Research, said low commodity prices, rising seed and high fertilizer costs, and tight credit will mean another tough year for farmers and ranchers.
“Illinois Farm Business Farm Management reports that over the past four years, farm income has dropped 6 percent a year, while costs have fallen at half that rate,” Guebert said during his testimony. “In fact, indexed to inflation, the economic return for Illinois farmers after family expenses is currently at its lowest level since 1972.”
But, Guebert added, the farm economy isn’t the only factor affecting farm income and stability. Congressional legislation and federal regulations can greatly impact farmers’ ability to operate.
Some actions by Congress will help American farmers, including changes affecting covered farm vehicles, improvements to waterway systems and improvements that will affect agricultural drivers and shippers. Other Congressional action is less than positive.
“Unfortunately, the list of things that increase [farmers’] costs is even longer,” Guebert said. “A few at the top of the list are the most urgent.”
Guebert named the following as pressing concerns of farmers: The Senate’s failure to pass a voluntary GMO labeling bill; the backlogged H-2A program, which allows farmers to hire migrant workers; and the Senate’s failure to pass a companion bill to HR 897, which would ensure that when farmers lawfully apply pesticides, they are not subject to a Clean Water Act permit.
Still, during a spring when weather has been close to perfect and the 2016 crop looks promising, Guebert was quick to thank the Subcommittee and Congress for defending and maintaining programs which support farmers, and thus, support a stable food supply.
“Farming is still risky,” Guebert said. “In 1993, [my son and I] planted 1,750 acres of corn, soybeans and wheat. But flooding devastated our crop, and we harvested only 17 acres that fall. It’s tough to recover from something like that, but thankfully, programs like federal crop insurance and commodity programs are there to help farmers recover from weather-related disaster and multi-year price declines.”