Whitman County farmers question how the Farm Bill will affect them

PULLMAN, WA - Leaders from the U.S. Department of Agriculture said the 2014 Farm Bill will reduce the deficit and strengthen local economies, but are local farmers and Ag experts buying it?

Reporter Rachel Dubrovin gives us a re-cap of a League of Women Voters panel that focused on the Farm Bill.

"The last few years have been great for agriculture," said Palouse Wheat Farmer Ben Barstow. "Farmers are in a better position now than they probably have been in certainly our lifetime."

With over a million acres of tillable land, Whitman County is home to a lot of farmers, and its citizens have a lot of questions about the 2014 Farm Bill. Pullman's League of Women Voters asked a panel of agriculture experts to explain how this Farm Bill is different from previous versions.

"In the past, the Farm Bill was ironed out by agricultural interests," said Former U of I Agricultural Economic Professor Dr. Joe Guenthner. "The Farm Bureau, food growers, getting together with Congress and it was mainly seen as an agricultural issue. Now it's not."

Former University of Idaho Agricultural Economics Professor Doctor Joe Guenthner explained this Farm Bill is about consumers and society as a whole.

"I think that is the key question that the American public needs to answer: How many farmers do you want?" said Barstow.

Palouse Wheat Farmer Ben Barstow explained some of the Farm Bill programs will help keep small, local farms in business.

"Because if you don't care how many farmers there are, you can do away with all of these programs, and by the time I retire in 20 years, there'll be five farming operations between the Snake River and the Canadian border," said Barstow.

Guenthner isn't as concerned about the threat of large-scale corporate farms.

"The American farmer can do it better than corporations," said Guenthner.

And he explained some of the USDA's programs discriminate against certain commodities.

"Nutrition is not the issue, the USDA officials said, 'Poor people eat enough potatoes'", said Guenthner. "We don't want them to eat anymore. So you potato growers, too bad."

Many of the 2014 Farm Bill details are still up in the air...but Whitman County Farm Services Agency Director Tory Bye reminds farmers that none of its programs are mandatory.

"They're all strictly voluntary," said Bye. "If a producer chooses not to, he can say 'No, I don't want any government funding, I don't want any help, I want to do things my way.'"

The USDA is expected to publicize the final programs and regulations of the Farm Bill this fall.