Megan Hedges is a fourth generation wheat and pulse crop farmer from Chester, Montana. She's the president of the Hill-Liberty-Blaine Counties Farm Bureau. This is her third year on the American Farm Bureau's Farm Policy Issues Advisory Committee. Issue Advisory Committees gather farmers and ranchers from across the nation to share, serve, gather ideas and information that helps guide policy implementation and inspires grassroots policy development.

Thank you for allowing me the opportunity to represent Montana Farm Bureau and Montana’s ag commodities at the Issues Advisory Committee meetings in D.C. as a part of the Farm Policy Committee. Since a majority of the committee members are from the eastern states, I feel it is a great privilege and responsibility to have a seat at the table. This year’s meeting felt much more productive than in the past since there was finally a Farm Bill in place, and we are able to express how it is working or not working for the farmers in our individual states. We touched on everything from Crop Insurance, Market Facilitation Program, Wildfires and Hurricanes Indemnity Program Plus (WHIP+) and a future market outlook.

With 2019 being a major disaster year for all of the United States, disaster payments were a large part of our discussion.  WHIP+ and a timeline for payments was a question we asked to nearly everyone we spoke with.  Sugar beets were indicated as large part of the hold up due to quality issues and questions around how to disperse additional funding that was added to WHIP and intended for sugar. “It’s coming, be patient,” was the message from USDA and congressional staff.

Another question much of the committee had regarded a third round of Market Facilitation Program (MFP) payments.  The message all of our speakers, including Kristi Boswell, a former American Farm Bureau staffer, reiterated was that a third round should not be necessary once China fulfills its trade commitments. However, the Coronavirus has really taken its toll.  It is yet to be seen if China will actually hold up its end of the deal, but USDA representatives passed along the message from Secretary Purdue that they are hopeful the China Deal will play out to be as beneficial for agriculture as they are expecting.  American Farm Bureau current staff, including Dr. Newton, expect a “vacuum effect” to take place once the Coronavirus is no longer an issue and trade to ramp up significantly once trade doors open and they will be back on track to meet their demands.

Since over $9 billion dollars were spent on disaster, we discussed the impact and the negative perception D.C. policy makers will likely have regarding crop insurance the 2022 Farm Bill. Tara Smith, a crop insurance consultant and another former American Farm Bureau staff, expressed the negative press farming gets every time a disaster payment is issued.

With the exception of the most recent Farm Bill, crop insurance is always on the chopping block.  We tell the story that crop insurance is our only safety net and a vital component for risk management. But with additional disaster dollars spent, although they were essential in 2019, it makes that argument more difficult. Tara’s suggestion was to express the possible need for more enhancements/options to beef up crop insurance and improve risk management capabilities; make crop insurance more effective for commodities that are not adequately covered.  She stated that the last major overhaul to crop insurance came in the 80’s after significant disaster payments occurred, so maybe there is a favorable outcome, but likely, it will be a fight to maintain crop insurance and farm organizations need to begin gearing up for that battle.       

Once again, thank you. I am always humbled to represent Montana Farm Bureau in D.C. Congressional staff, delegates, and agency representative say how much they appreciate and respect the work of the Farm Bureau and how often they use it as a trusted source. I continued to be impressed at the level of staff training the American Farm Bureau offers and the number of former staff members who have gone on to high level positions within the ag industry. It makes me proud to be a member, Hill-Liberty-Blaine county president, and especially an Issue Advisory Committee member.