Agriculture Agenda: West Texans Fight for Farm Bill

LUBBOCK, TX - Nearly any farmer in West Texas would say that times are tough. Those same agriculture producers are turning to their newly-elected member of congress for support in passing a Farm Bill in 2018.

Agriculture rules the South Plains. Just ask Dan Jackson, general manager of Meadow Farmers Co-Op.

"Agriculture is important, especially to this area, simply because we're what built it," Jackson said. "Cotton played a huge role in the high plains, always has, always will."

Jackson emphasized needing a "very strong voice" when the Farm Bill discussions intensify.

Biggest thing I can see is there is hope that cottonseed being designated as another oilseed.

"2018 farm bill is paramount," he said. "There has to be some other form of help besides an insurance program. People think that our guys don't have any skin in the game, and they're wrong. Our guys pay a huge, huge amount of money for their insurance. They do get a little bit of help on that, but that's all they have."

Jackson added another of his priorities was to help cottonseed get designated as an oilseed.

"If we don't get good farm bill legislation, then you jeopardize that economic tie, and the number that has been mentioned," he mentioned. "Sorghum growers, corn growers, the cattlemen, our feed lot industry that works from this area north, all plays a huge role economically in this whole area."

One of the men he has turned to is Representative Jodey Arrington (R-TX, 19th District). The freshman congressman described his first two months in office as "quite a whirlwind." He was appointed to three U.S. House committees right away, in agriculture, veterans' affairs, and budget.

"The appointments are proving to be ideal for what we're trying to accomplish, that's promoting and defending the interest of West Texas," Arrington said.

"The Farm Bill has been opened up, in the sense that we're having hearings," he explained. The first one was about the state of rural America."

In that first hearing, Arrington expanded upon his commitment to farmers and ranchers.

"I certainly believe strongly that if we’re going to make America great again, we need a strong and sustainable rural America," he said in the committee hearing. "I don’t know who is going to feed and clothe the American people if rural America isn’t healthy and I don’t know who is going to fuel the American economy if rural America isn’t healthy."

Jackson, who was initially critical of Arrington, said he not only backs the new congressman, but also views Rep. Mike Conaway (R-TX, 11th District) as an ally.

"He's a friend of all agriculture," Jackson said about the chairman of the Ag committee.

One person Jackson hoped to create dialogue with was Senator Ted Cruz (R-TX).

Cruz visited Lubbock twice in the fall of 2016, and met with local Ag producers, including Jackson, during his tour of West Texas.

"I don't know how much mind-changing we've done, but it was very refreshing to have (Cruz) in Texas and to have him in West Texas and to do that kind of tour," he explained.

"House side, I feel great about," Jackson said. "I'm 'hopefully optimistic' as far as the Senate goes."

"Maybe after this Ag tour, Senator Cruz will be a little more open to working with us," Jackson stated. "I think maybe hearing our side, hearing it from the producers, and the agribusiness folks that he talked to on this tour, hopefully will open some doors, and I felt like it did.

He said Senator John Cornyn (R-TX) has been a "great friend" to agriculture, but was troubled by both Cruz's and Cornyn's voting records on Ag.

"On the Senate side for the first time that I can remember, in my life time, we saw two senators vote against the farm bill that were from Texas. That is unheard of," Jackson said.

"If we take Ag away, Lubbock is going to hurt hard, and fast. This whole area would. We've got a lot of great people that are involved in agriculture," Jackson added.

"When Reese Air Force Base was in Lubbock, Texas, it impacted the Lubbock economy to the tune of $250 million a year, which is nothing to sneeze at, that's a lot of money. Agriculture affects (Lubbock's) economy to the tune of $12 billion a year," Jackson said.

"Just came out of a five year drought, five and a half year drought, and our guys are hurting," he said. "They need a strong Farm Bill, something much better than what we had in 2014, to go forward, to go do what they do and to go do it well. Take care of this country, take care of this area, that's the whole thing."

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