Senator Tester addresses trade during visit to Great Falls

by KRTV, Natalie McAlpine

Senator Jon Tester’s 7th Farm Bill Listening Session on his Barnstormin’ Tour stopped in Great Falls on Saturday and addressed issues such as farm insurance, pulse crops, and public funding and research.

The next Farm Bill will expire at the end of September. The bill is renewed every five years and encompasses a number of affairs including agricultural and food programs, conservation, farm credit, commodity prices, and development.

Tester’s tour allows him to discuss and hear input from state producers and local farmer and ranchers.

“What we’ve heard here today is a lot of concern about trade,” Tester said. “Whether it was TPP or whether it was NAFTA or whether it was the recent tariffs that the President put on steel and aluminum.”

According to Tester, Montana is an export state and exports over 90 percent of its products to the Pacific Rim, Mexico, and Canada.

“We need to make sure that we don’t shoot ourselves in the foot on exports and make sure we have a vibrant export market for agricultural commodities,” he said.

Collin Watters, the executive vice president of the Montana Wheat and Barley Committee, said trade is a major issue for the MWBC and the programs dealing with trade in the Farm Bill such as the Market Access Program (MAP) and the Foreign Market Development Program (FMD) are relatively small but critically important.

According to Watters, the programs work through cost share. The MWBC’s money is matched by USDA money to help support FMD programs.

Watters said the Congressional Budget Office changed the way the budgeting baseline was set and any programs under $50 million were zeroed out.

The FMD program is under that threshold and has been zeroed out on some level.

“If Congress decides to just extend the Farm Bill instead of renewing or re-upping with a new Farm Bill, that program along with some other programs that are under the $50 million mark won’t be funded in an extension scenario,” he said. “It’s just important that we get those programs especially handled soon.”