The Glasgow Courier: Tester Holds Farm Bill Listening Sessions & Law Enforcement Roundtable in Eastern Montana

by Gwendolyne Honrud

U.S. Senator Jon Tester this past week held three in-person, public Farm Bill listening sessions in eastern Montana to hear directly from ag producers, community leaders, and local officials in preparation for negotiating the 2023 Farm Bill. Tester also hosted a law enforcement roundtable in Glendive to discuss funding for public safety, securing the border, and combating fentanyl trafficking.

On Jan. 10, Tester hosted the first listening session in Glasgow, and on Wednesday, Tester hosted two more forums in Plentywood and Sidney with panelists from the Montana Farm Bureau, Montana Farmers Union, and the Montana Stockgrowers Association, among others. After each panel, Senator Tester and the panelists took questions and comments from the audience.

“Hearing from Montanans is the most important part of my job as a U.S. Senator,” said Tester. “I’m glad to be here in eastern Montana talking to producers and local leaders about what they need out of this year’s Farm Bill, and visiting with local law enforcement to learn about the biggest challenges they are facing when it comes to public safety, including securing the border and combating the fentanyl epidemic. I look forward to bringing their feedback to Washington, D.C. and getting to work on legislation that boosts Montana’s small businesses and provides local law enforcement with the resources they need to keep our communities safe.”

“It’s great to have Senator Tester here in Glasgow to hear directly from producers about our greatest challenges and needs going into 2023,” said Lochiel Edwards, Montana Grain Growers Association. “The Farm Bill helps make sure that Montana farms like ours have the resources to stay competitive, so I can’t emphasize enough how important it is that we have the chance to give our input to the folks who will be crafting these policies in Washington.”

“I appreciate the opportunity to visit face to face with Senator Tester. The choices made in Washington have a direct impact on producers in rural Montana,” said Lesley Robinson, First Vice President, Montana Stockgrowers Association. “Our part of the state has been experiencing an ongoing drought. The programs within the Farm Bill have helped producers weather the storm through programs like ELAP to cover part of the cost of hauling feed to our cattle or our cattle to feed. That’s why it is important that Senator Tester came to Glasgow to hear in person the concerns and suggestions on how to improve the next Farm Bill from local producers, business owners, and community leaders.”

“We appreciate Senator Tester coming to northeast Montana to meet with farmers and ranchers in advance of the upcoming Farm Bill,” said Tom DePuydt, President, Phillips County Farm Bureau. “These conversations are key to passing a Farm Bill that includes Farm Bureau priorities like protecting and expanding crop insurance and making sure that conservation programs work for producers.”

“I would like to commend Senator Tester for starting off the new year right by meeting face to face with family farmers and ranchers in eastern Montana” said Walt Schweitzer, President, Montana Farmers Union. “It is critical for our state’s elected representatives to hear directly from the producers who are on the land working day in and day out. As a producer and as President of the Montana Farmers Union, Senator Tester has my thanks for leading the charge on passing a Farm Bill that promotes fair and competitive markets and provides opportunities to people in Montana.”

Brett Dailey of Garfield County, whose experience includes Montana Farmers Union, Montana Beef council and Montana Wheat & Barley Committee, also sat on the panel in Glasgow.

Over the course of the hour-plus listening session, panelists expounded on issues important to their particular segments of the ag industry and brought programs they deem essential and in need of continued and/or increased funding to the attention of the Senator and his staff. Several members of the panel stressed the need for continuing insurance programs and their desire to see coverage rates adjusted in light of current economic conditions. The ongoing drought, severe weather and grasshopper damage were cited as causes of continued concern for farmers and ranchers alike.

Attendees brought up concerns to the Senator following the panel. Audience members from across the region expressed concern on the decline of the family farm and the future of agriculture. Schweitzer echoed their sentiments and stressed the need to release the stranglehold large corporations and commodities traders have on the market while returning agriculture to a local-focused market. Ranchers addressed the nation’s reliance on imported beef and the resulting threats to their livelihood with Schweitzer stressing the need for more work on country of origin labeling. Further, ranchers and farmers wanted to ensure that their voices and concerns would be heard and addressed in the upcoming Farm Bill and that the legislation would not be driven by corporate special interests.

Senator Tester told the crowd that his “Barnstormin’ Farm Bill Listening Tour” was in fact designed specifically to hear from producers so that their voices were not overlooked as Congress moves forward. Throughout the session he took notes and delegated follow-up issues to his staff while encouraging constituents to bring further concerns to his office’s attention.

Leading up to the 2018 Farm Bill, Senator Tester held seven public listening sessions across the state in Billings, Missoula (2), Kalispell, Glendive, Lewistown, and Great Falls. These forums focused on a variety of topics covered in the Farm Bill, including agribusiness, conservation, timber, and nutrition. Tester took this feedback to Washington D.C. and was responsible for securing significant wins for Montana in the 2018 Farm Bill, including:

• Reauthorizing and keeping intact both Price Loss Coverage (PLC) and Ag Risk Coverage (ARC) insurance.

• Amending the Environmental Quality Incentive Program to better work for Montana producers. Increasing the maximum acreage of the Conservation Reserve Program.

• Directing the USDA Secretary to more actively fight the spread of Foot and Mouth Disease.

• Protecting the Sugar Program, which provides support to Montana beetgrowers.

• Reauthorizing the Wheat and Barley Scab Initiative, which is vital to the mission of the Northern Plains Research Lab in Sidney.

• Mandating funding for the National Organic Certification Cost Share Program.

• Removing hemp from the list of controlled substances, enabling it to be sold as a commodity.

• Reauthorizing critical USDA Rural Development Grants that are used to rebuild and construct water and wastewater infrastructure and expand access to high-speed internet in rural areas.

Tester Holds Farm Bill Listening Sessions & Law Enforcement Roundtable in Eastern Montana – The Glasgow Courier