Over the weekend (June 25th), the U.S. House of Representatives Agriculture Committee held the first in a series of listening sessions entitled “A 2022 Review of the Farm Bill: Perspectives from the Field” at Central Arizona College in Coolidge, Arizona. Several Arizona farmers and Farm Bureau leaders spoke during the event.

Arizona Farm Bureau President Stefanie Smallhouse, Maricopa County Farm Bureau member Jim Boyle, Pinal County Farm Bureau member Nancy Caywood, Maricopa County Farm Bureau member Adam Hatley, and Pinal County Farm Bureau member Paco Ollerton shared their feedback about the 2023 Farm Bill with members of the House Ag Committee. 

Arizona cotton farmer Adam Hatley spoke as “the first producer of the afternoon,” speaking on the cotton portion of the Farm Bill. “While cotton prices are stronger than in recent years, higher input prices and severe supply chain issues have resulted in significant increases in production costs. Most producers are expecting a 25% to 40% increase in input costs for 2022 largely due to higher fertilizer, energy and pesticide costs. As compared to a year ago fertilizer prices have increased by 55% to 120%. Supply chain and logistical challenges have wreaked havoc on our ability to get necessary inputs and equipment parts while creating major disruptions in delivering cotton to our customers,” said Hatley who also grows corn and organic produce. “As producers, we must have an effective safety net. This includes a commodity policy that provides either price or revenue protection for prolonged periods of low prices and depressed market conditions. It also must include a strong and fully accessible suite of crop insurance products that producers can purchase and tailor to their risk management needs. The non-recourse marketing loan program for upland cotton remains the cornerstone for our industry regardless of market conditions. The marketing loan is important to multiple industry segments to effectively market cotton and provide cash flow for the producers. There are important policy considerations for extra-long staple (ELS) cotton, or Pima cotton, grown here in Arizona. Overall, the ELS cotton competitive program and the ELS loan program should be maintained with potential enhancements in the next Farm Bill. I may add in conclusion since this testimony was written four days ago, the cotton prices have dropped 20 cents in the last three days which compounds the problem that I’ve already talked about. We are a family farm. My dad is 87 and he is semi-retired, so he takes Sundays off.”

During the testimonies, Chairman David Scott highlighted the important fact that 90% of our domestic food supply comes from 12% of America’s agriculture producers. 

“Having been an advocate for agriculture for decades now, the Farm Bill is a heavy lift,” said Arizona Farm Bureau President and southern Arizona rancher Stefanie Smallhouse. “As we can clearly see here from the group of people today the Farm Bill touches everyone. We are in a totally different world in agriculture than the 2018 Farm Bill. Lots of things have changed. One of those things is attention to regional differences. There are a lot of programs within the Farm Bill that are one size fits all. The world we are living in in Arizona right now is what’s being called a mega-drought. This has impacted all commodities, all different sectors and specialty crops. It’s impacted our access to water, it’s impacted our access to feed, it’s impacted our commodity prices. So, a lot of the programs we have used traditionally to offset those impacts are looked at on a national level, not so much the regional level. We need to ask ourselves, what can we tweak to make them work better compared to the last couple of years considering those regional differences. They had a lot of ad-hoc programs that came out of the pandemic and the market disruptions we had with trade, it’s great to know the government can bring something to offset a problem but then we have unintended consequences that brings us back to those regional differences and access to some of those programs where there was not enough knowledge in who needed the programs, a challenge from some of our specialty crop growers here in Arizona. We are all aware of the disruptions that have happened because of the pandemic and because of the drought. On wildfires, we’ve obviously seen a lot more intense wildfires in the southwest and specifically in Arizona negatively impacting our ranchers and rangeland production. Right now, there are very few programs that could be integrated into the Farm Bill program to offset the losses that happen during a wildfire. Right now, emergency watershed protection is a very slow-moving program. It’s very cumbersome and a lot of times here in Arizona when we hope to get a lot of this water comes right after our wildfire season. We end up with a top of money and a ton of resources going into a wildfire mitigation then everyone picks up and leaves and there’s nothing left. On the conservation title, we need more flexibility. Right now, a lot of people are canceling contracts with the NRCS because the cost lists don’t match inflation. So, the offset is much more minimal than it was in the past. 

“I’d also like to talk about creative solutions within the Farm Bill. Within ELAP and LIP, we are working with Congressman O’Halloran on a co-existence program to offset the loss from wolf depredation. We would solicit you all in support of that program. I’ll end with climate-smart agriculture. It’s a big concern that that will be made a condition of participation instead of an incentive for participation. In Arizona, a lot of those techniques that are readily available around the country are not available here.” 

Pinal County cotton, wheat and alfalfa farmer Nancy Caywood thanked the committee for coming to Arizona and listening to their comments regarding the Farm Bill.  “My name is Nancy Caywood and I am an owner of Caywood Farms, a 90-year-old, 5th Generation farm located east of Casa Grande, Arizona.  Nutrition Starts on the Farm. As I listened to so many comments from people representing food and nutrition programs including the SNAP Program, I cannot help but say that those all these important programs cannot exist without farms. They cannot continue to distribute food if we have no farms.

“Our need for water is critical.  We are in the San Carlos Irrigation District and must pay for two-acre-feet of water whether it is available.  Currently San Carlos Lake/Coolidge Dam is empty, and no water is available to us.  Our water rates increased from $50.00 an acre-foot to $79.00 an acre-foot this past year.  Water Rates are attached to our tax bill so we will see a significant increase in the next tax bill.  If we cannot make this payment, we could lose our land.

“A solution that I would like to suggest is that farmers receive assistance money from the Farm Bill to help cover the water portion of tax bills during drought years when water is not available. It is our job as farmers to provide food and fiber for our nation and our world and without water that is not possible.  Farmers need financial assistance so they can continue farming.  Ag land needs to be cherished and preserved.

 “We need money for infrastructure.   Without concrete-lined canals in our water district, we are unable to receive Central Arizona Project Water (if it were available).   Infrastructure money to drill wells so that water can be pumped into our canals is also needed. Finally, agriculture is Freedom and Food Safety.”

Testimony also came from Paco Ollerton, Will Thelander, Larry Rovey and Jim Boyle all agriculture producers in Arizona and members of the Arizona Farm Bureau.
 Three Members of Congress participated with approximately 140 members of the public participating in-person or streaming online. Audience members discussed topics including nutrition, conservation, water, and regional differences in Farm Bill needs. Following the listening session, Members of Congress participated in a tour of Knorr Farms’ cooling facility and visited a drip-irrigated cotton field at Tempe Farm Company.
 According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture, there are more than 19,000 farms in Arizona covering approximately 26,200,000 acres. The Arizona Department of Agriculture and Arizona Farm Bureau report that agriculture contributes $23.3 billion to the state’s economy and supports more than 138,000 full and part-time jobs, both directly and indirectly. Arizona is the third-largest producing state for fresh market vegetables and fourth in acres of organic vegetables.
 Members of the House Agriculture Committee issued the following statements following today’s event.
“The Farm Bill is a critically important piece of legislation that requires careful thought and consideration,” said Chairman David Scott. “As we prepare to craft this legislation next year, it is incumbent upon Members of the House Agriculture Committee to reflect on what changes and updates should be made. It is so important that we gather the perspectives not only of government officials, experts, and stakeholders in Washington, DC but also of our producers and consumers across the country,” Chairman David Scott continued. “I want to thank my good friend Congressman Tom O’Halleran for hosting our first listening session in his wonderful state of Arizona. I would also like to thank House Agriculture Subcommittee Chair Cheri Bustos of Illinois for chairing the event and House Agriculture Subcommittee Ranking Member Austin Scott of Georgia for participating.”
“Today’s listening session was a great opportunity to hear directly from local farmers, ranchers, and ag producers about what they want to see out of our next Farm Bill. I thank the House Agriculture Committee and Congresswoman Bustos for joining me in Coolidge to see firsthand the challenges hardworking Arizonans face in producing and caring for the crops and livestock needed to feed and clothe our nation. Rural America is the backbone of our great country—we must ensure rural families and businesses are supported as we draft legislation,” said Congressman Tom O’Halleran.
“As we prepare for the next Farm Bill, it’s vital that we listen to family farmers from every corner of our country,” said Congresswoman Bustos. “Thank you to Congressman O’Halleran for the opportunity to learn more about Arizona agriculture and hear directly from local farmers about their priorities. I look forward to continuing this dialogue in the coming months to ensure that we preserve and improve programs vital to our ag community.”
“Gathering input from stakeholders is critical to writing a Farm Bill that meets the needs of American agriculture. With supply chain issues, rising input costs, and shortages in the global food supply, I look forward to working with farmers and ranchers to ensure they have the tools and policies they need to continue to produce food and fiber to feed and clothe the world,” said Congressman Austin Scott.