By Val Wagner
Coming off one of the worst years that we’ve ever had, knowing that the farm bill had been passed by the end of December was a relief that we weren’t expecting. Just before Christmas, we were still in the process of harvest, for a crop that we weren’t sure was worth the trip up and down the field. Dealing with natural disasters interfering with our progress is one thing – it’s another when it’s man-made interruptions that also impact our family farms.
What do I see as promising in the new farm bill? The opportunities for growth, trade and individualization within our farming businesses. I have four boys who are growing up before my eyes. They each have their own personalities, hopes, dreams and ideas about what their future may look like and now I can actually see some of that taking shape. I see potential and opportunity. Hemp? Hops? Barley? Vegetables? Some of the ideas that they have now look like they could become realities – with the ability to insure some of those crops that weren’t insurable before.
My community is excited for the potential of being able to amp up some of our local markets. We have a neighbor who raises hydroponic lettuce. For rural North Dakota, that’s huge. We can have local lettuce year-round. It’s an opportunity that, if replicated, can open many doors. But that can’t be done without support.
After the year we had in 2018, it’s difficult to want to encourage my children to continue the farming legacy we have worked generations to build. The hard work and long hours are difficult to justify when you miss out on big moments and have to defend your way of life to those who barely appreciate what you do, let alone understand it. And yet, the passing of this farm bill – following a year of perfect storms, during which our farms were hit from all sides by bad weather, tariffs, trade uncertainty, regulations, volatile markets and declining prices – gave me a glimmer of hope. Two sides of a very different coin were able to come together and agree that agriculture – and food – was important enough to not play games any longer. Perhaps that’s the lesson for all of us. Our crops will be eligible for insurance. In fact, more crops than ever before will be eligible for insurance. If we have another year like 2018, it will be a major determining factor in whether or not our family is able to continue farming for another year.
In a perfect world, my farm would not need a farm bill. In a perfect world, the markets would be open, prices would be fair and responsive to conditions and my day-to-day activities would consist of focusing on the crops that we love to raise. But if there is one thing that farming and ranching has taught me – it’s that a perfect world doesn’t exist. We have to play the hand we’re dealt and make the best of what we have. We also plan for a better tomorrow and do whatever we can to make sure that the next generation understands the importance of the lessons we have learned and that science and nature can work in harmony.
We do not look to the farm bill as an answer to the problems facing agriculture. Yet, with so many outside interferences that interrupt our day-to-day activities, there needs to be something in place that allows us a chance to be successful when we are good stewards of the land...and allows us to fail when we are not. I hope to one day look back on our farm and be able to see the future we have built taking shape. And for the first time in a long time, I can actually see that future. For that, I am thankful.
Val Wagner, a grain and cattle farmer in North Dakota and Farm Bureau leader, is vice chair of AFBF’s national Promotion & Education Committee.