NORTHBOROUGH, Mass. — U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue visited Massachusetts on Aug. 31 to hear directly from Massachusetts farmers about their concerns about the 2018 Farm Bill, which is an omnibus, multi-year law that governs an array of agricultural and food programs. He also received feedback about other national agricultural policy programs during his town-hall style session at Davidian Bros Farm in Northborough, Massachusetts.
“This is an opportunity to get out across America,” Perdue said. “As you might imagine, when people think about agriculture or the U.S. Department of Agriculture, their mind doesn’t immediately go to Massachusetts. But what I’ve learned at USDA is that all 50 states have a level of agriculture.
“Coming out to these states and understanding the challenges that each area faces, Massachusetts does not have the same needs as somewhere like where we were yesterday in Decatur, Illinois. But I believe you are on the cutting edge of what the future of agriculture is going to be. That is directly from the producer to the consumer.”
A key point of discussion during Secretary Perdue’s visit was risk management. Tom Smiarowski, UMass extension risk management specialist, said that crop insurance in Massachusetts is problematic due to the volume of direct retail sales. He indicated to make this program viable for producers, record keeping requirements need to be lessened, citing a forage insurance program that has been utilized in Massachusetts based on rainfall data.
“We have been working on a project for hay and pasture producers,” Smiarowski said. “This program is based on rainfall data, not record keeping. We found it worked successfully last year and now we are looking to expand it to vegetable and fruit producers.”
Additionally, Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation (MFBF) member and Northborough farmer Maurice “Mo” Tougas said that crop insurance is also problematic because the requirements change year to year. This sometimes creates a situation where a farmer is not covered for a natural disaster. Following Tougas’ example, other farmers provided direct on-the-farm examples of issues they had with crop insurance.
The forum’s discussion also included a piece on risk management in relation to dairy when Darryl Williams, a Hatfield farmer and MFBF dairy committee chair, spoke on the dairy margin protection program.
“The first year, there was more than $70 million paid by dairy farmers into this program,” Williams said. “Then later there was a fee calculation thrown in so we didn’t get any money back despite the low milk prices that year. That’s one of the tools where improvements can be made.”
Secretary Perdue agreed with this statement and indicated that he believes “that this will be a major correction in the next Farm Bill.”
Other topics of discussion included cranberry supply and demand, research and extension, nutrition and financing. Topics discussed outside of the Farm Bill included labor, specifically the H2A program; the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA); the Food Safety and Modernization Act (FSMA) and equine processing.
“All these discussions were focused around improving profitability and long-term viability of farms in the Northeast,” said MFBF President Ed Davidian, who farms in Northborough. “We are looking for effective programs in the next Farm Bill that will help our farms continue for generations.”
Following his town-hall style discussion, the Secretary had a brief amount of time to mingle with the Massachusetts farmers who were present.
“We may talk a little different in different parts of the country but farmers are all very much the same,” Perdue said. “By getting out here in Massachusetts in farm country, it has given me a renewed optimism for what we can do.”
Following his stop in Massachusetts, Secretary Perdue headed North to meet with farmers in New Hampshire to hear their concerns firsthand.
To view MFBF’s Facebook page, which includes a live video from this visit, please click here.
—Massachusetts Farm Bureau Federation
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