Everyone has to eat.
That’s the motto southwest North Dakota farmers Jim Kerzman and Bob Kuylen have, and it’s the sentiment they’re taking with them to Washington, D.C., this week as part of the National Farmers Union’s annual fly-in event to lobby members of Congress to support the farm bill.
Sixty-seven North Dakota Farmers Union members are flying into the nation’s capital and Kuylan, who farms wheat and sunflowers near South Heart, said he hopes the delegation can put some faces to the farm bill.
“They like to talk to actual farmers instead of lobbyists,” Kuylen said. “We’ll tell them what’s going on out in the country, instead of someone being paid and curving it their way.”
The nine-month farm bill extension passed Jan. 1 expires at the end of September and has been bouncing from the House of Representatives to the Senate with major and minor changes seemingly ever since with little agreement. If the farm bill isn’t passed, there is a possibility of another extension before the bill expires Sept. 30.
Kuylen and Kerzman, a Mott area farmer who served seven sessions in the North Dakota Legislature as a Democrat, said the members are pushing to keep crop insurance subsidies and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, the food stamp assistance program commonly referred to as SNAP, in the bill.
North Dakota Farmers Union members are leery of the scaled-down farm bill that separates food stamp spending into a separate bill, primarily because they believe it would lead to the failure in Congress of the part of the farm bill that actually serves to help family farms.
At a meeting with supporters Friday morning at Perkins restaurant in Dickinson, Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., who voted for separating the bill, agreed.
“You have really a bunch of people who represent folks who eat food and have no idea where it comes from, and a bunch of people who grow it and separately, they can never make for 51 percent. Together, they did,” Cramer said. “That strategy worked for years.”
He went on to say that the rise in the number of people on food stamps is taking farm bill funding away from farmers, which is why the House voted to split the bill.
“The House farm bill is far superior to the Senate farm bill,” Cramer said.
Farmers Union members don’t agree.
They believe a farm bill that not only helps farmers but also provides food stamp and nutrition incentives is a catch-all winner that can pass both the House and Senate.
Kuylen and Kerzman said direct subsidy payments to farmers are needed, but should be curtailed to serve farmers when they need them the most while focusing more help toward crop insurance subsidies and disaster relief, two issues that seem to greatly affect North Dakota farmers on a yearly basis.
“We don’t feel that there should be direct payments in a year like this, where you have a really good year,” Kuylen said. “Why should you be getting a check from the government for farming when everything is good? We need help when you have a drought come through or a serious weather event that knocks out production in an area. You’ve got hundreds of thousands of dollars invested in the ground. How are you supposed to become whole without the crop insurance or a disaster program? That’s where we figure the farm bill should be more focused, affordable crop insurance and the disaster bill. So you don’t lose your farm over some weather-related thing you had nothing to do with.”
Kerzman said crop insurance is one of the costliest payments a farmer can make.
“If we had to pay 100 percent, it would be really costly,” he said. “Most people couldn’t afford it, especially young farmers starting out.”
Libby Gravning and her daughter, Kaylee Schwind, have been in Washington since Friday to take in the sights before joining other Farmers Union members to lobby their support the farm bill.
Gravning and her husband, Brian, farm small grains north of Hettinger. Schwind, a 17-year-old senior at Hettinger High School, is active in agriculture programs and is serving as a teen representative for the Farmers Union.
Gravning said she wants to show her support to expanding or, at the very least, continuing loan and grant programs for beginning farmers.
“That’s so important,” Gravning said. “We have so many young kids who want to take over their parents farm or start out, but the land prices or rent prices are so outrageous that anything to help the new farmers, otherwise they’re not going to be there in 20, 30 years.”
Kuylen and Kerzman said they have been on several Farmers Union fly-ins to Washington, but that there is a much bigger importance this year. The Farmers Union members will be on Capitol Hill Monday through Wednesday. They split up into groups and have appointments set up with every member of Congress or their agriculture aides.
“North Dakota has a big delegation going because the farm bill is very important to us up here,” Kuylen said. “We’re going to see what we can do again.”
Press reporter Katherine Grandstrand contributed to this story.