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Congressional Bipartisanship Key to Renewal of Farm Bill

Mac Gordon

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Like most Americans who didn’t grow up on a production farm or ranch, I didn’t know much until a later age about the term “Farm Bill.”

That changed for me upon moving to Leland to operate the local weekly newspaper in the late 1970s. A gentleman farmer there — a Delta planter — advised me early-on to always look out for changes in the federal legislation that governs U.S. agriculture.

“Around here, there’s a large group of people who will appreciate every word you write or publish concerning the Farm Bill,” he told me. “It affects every facet of life in a place like this.”

That place included a coterie of some of Mississippi’s best farmers planting a multiplicity of crops on land considered as fertile as that of the Nile River Valley. These people worked hard, some played hard and all believed that life in the Delta region depended almost entirely on farm production.

It was a belief that drew no argument from me. As the local editor, I kept abreast of the local economy and it was plain as day to tell from what I witnessed that Leland and Drew where I had papers — and myriad hamlets like them such as Indianola, Belzoni, Rosedale and Hollandale —- thrived in good crop years and were glum when farming soured.

Leland was luckier than the others because its environs included —and still does — one of the world’s foremost agricultural experiment stations at adjacent Stoneville.

The federal-state research station populated Leland’s homes, businesses, churches and service clubs with an assemblage of highly-educated individuals, many holding doctoral degrees in a variety of crop disciplines, who provided a unique resident sector that was the envy of similar communities. Their life’s work enhanced agriculture worldwide.

A major addendum to actual farming and the research activity was and is a regional economic development group, the Delta Council, whose longtime leader, the late B.F. Smith, was often referred to as Mississippi’s “sixth congressman” for his extensive lobbying efforts in Washington for agriculture. Smith, who was CEO of Delta Council for 35 years, often played a key role in forming this key farm legislation.

So, that scene is what gave me at least a cursory view of the $1.5 trillion (yes, with a ‘t’) “Farm Bill” that’s up for congressional renewal this year. The Leland experience over 13 years fueled my interest in this matter ever since.

Congress has reauthorized the Farm Bill 18 times since its creation in the 1930s. Originally, it provided monetary support for myriad crops, but was expanded to include ag-related issues like crop insurance, covering weather- and market-related losses, and nutrition assistance programs for needy Americans.

Says the Congressional Research Agency, a nonpartisan informational group: “The omnibus nature of the farm bill can create broad coalitions of support among sometimes conflicting interests for policies that individually might have greater difficulty achieving majority support in the legislative process.”

In debate on the current renewal effort, lawmakers want to ensure the viability of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP, basically food stamps, while protecting row-crop supports in a variety of forms. In Mississippi, there’s obviously major interest on both ends of this life-sustaining legislation.

A new consideration has arisen from concerns related to the climate crisis. USDA said it will accept proposals until July 2 from farm interests desiring to enhance conservation and natural resources while addressing the climate, which “in turn can save farmers money, create new revenue streams and increase productivity,” said U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack.

Congressional bipartisanship has traditionally steered the Farm Bill to passage. Let’s see if it holds.

---Mac Gordon is a native of McComb. He is a retired newspaperman. He can be reached at

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