American political history is filled with examples of politicians who seemed to forget who put them in office, turned their backs on agriculture and rural America, and paid the price at the ballot box. In the 2016 elections, an incumbent member of Congress from Kansas lost his primary race when farmers and ranchers turned out in droves and let him know that voting against the 2014 farm bill was a critical mistake. On the flip side, rural America turned out in a big way in November 2016 and helped put President Trump in office—demonstrating that rural America still packs an influential punch.
Last week, some in Congress voted against the 2018 farm bill. While their goal—forcing the House leadership to have a vote on immigration legislation—is a worthy one, they are playing a dangerous game by using the farm bill as their bargaining chip.
Our nation’s farmers and ranchers are not pawns in a political game. They are the lifeblood of our nation. A nation cannot remain secure and prosperous without food security. An army cannot march on an empty stomach. And many of our rural communities cannot thrive without agriculture and the many jobs it supports, from food processing and packaging to transportation. And right now, our farmers are hurting. With farm income at its lowest level in over a decade, farmers need a farm bill now.
A farmer or rancher wondering, today, at this very moment, whether to stay in agriculture or put the animals, land and equipment up for sale is going to make that decision based on whether the future looks stable or unclear. With some in Congress holding the farm bill—and by extension farmers and ranchers themselves—hostage to a separate issue, the future is far from certain for many of our nation’s farms and ranches.
I think sometimes our politicians forget that the “issues” they debate mean much more to the people affected by them. For us, the farm bill isn’t an issue, it’s about our livelihood, our life’s calling, and the source of our nation’s food security. Be assured that rural Americans will remind them of that every chance we get—including election day.
Vincent “Zippy” Duvall, a poultry, cattle and hay producer from Greene County, Georgia, is the 12th president of the American Farm Bureau Federation. You can follow him on Twitter @ZippyDuvall.