U.S. Representative David Scott represents the Thirteenth Congressional District of Georgia, which includes portions of six counties: Cobb, Clayton, Douglas, Fayette, Fulton, and Henry. He has served in the House of Representatives since 2002 and currently serves on the Financial Services Committee and the Agriculture Committee. We recently asked the Congressman to visit with us and our readers.
Currently Congress is working to pass the 2018 Farm Bill which reauthorizes federal agriculture and nutrition policies and programs for five years through 2023. Please tell our readers where we are in that process.
Right now, we are heading into the Conference Committee to work out the differences between the Farm Bill passed in the House of Representatives and the version passed by the Senate. The House of Representatives selected its conferees, and I am proud to be included among those chosen to do this important work reconciling the differences in both bills. Currently, the Senate is picking their conferees. Once the Senate conferees have been selected and the Senate votes favorably to go to conference, we will sprint to get a final bill out before the end of the fiscal year in September when the current bill expires.
While there are many differences in the details of the two bills, the largest and most publicized differences lie in Title 4 of the bill, which contains the nutrition programs and is the largest part of the bill. This includes the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, or SNAP for short, better known as Food Stamps. What people may not realize is that there are already strict work requirements included in SNAP and any able-bodied adult without dependents is only eligible to receive three months of benefits if they do not find work. I will work hard to protect this vital program that over 1.5 million Georgians rely on.
The Farm Bill includes many helpful programs for farmers, and you have been especially concerned about making sure that the future of agriculture and our food system is secure. We all should be concerned that the average age of the farmer in the U.S. is 60 and trending upward. Please describe your efforts to bring in new beginning farmers.
Agriculture is Georgia’s largest industry, so I am deeply concerned, as we should all be, about the current average age of American farmers. Getting new young people involved in farming is crucial to ensuring that our food and agriculture system remains the most affordable, secure, and safe in the whole world.
My efforts to get scholarship money to the 1890s Land Grant Colleges and Universities are essential to ensuring the future of agriculture in the United States. My bill H.R. 51, which has been included in both the Senate and House versions of the 2018 Farm Bill, will provide each of these schools $1 million per year for scholarships for the entirety of the five-year Farm Bill. This aid will help reduce barriers of entry into the agriculture industry. It is estimated that the start-up costs of a farm range between $3-5 million. This is an incredible barrier to entry even when prices are good, but that is certainly not the case right now. Allowing students to attend Fort Valley State University in Georgia, for example, on a full ride and go into farming without student loans hanging over their heads will give them a chance. It won’t be easy, but this will give them a chance. It’s what is right for future farmers, what’s right for Georgia agriculture, and what’s right for the future of the American food supply.
There is a lot of talk right now about the current trade situation under President Trump’s administration. Do you think that will affect the 2018 Farm Bill?
I am going to call a spade a spade here. We are in a full-on trade war, one that will have implications for Georgia companies for generations to come. Folks may not realize it, but Georgia produces a third of all the pecans grown in this country. And half of those pecans from Georgia are bought by China.
In 2014 U.S. chicken exports to Mexico alone totaled $800 million. But even under the protections of NAFTA, exports to Mexico shrunk to $500 million in 2017. During this same time period, Brazil’s exports to Mexico grew from $50 million to $200 million. If we continue to put up trade barriers, it seems clear to me that Brazil will take even more of the market, leaving Georgia chicken farmers and food producers out in the cold.
The Administration must end these foolish tariffs, and instead continue to grow markets, not shrink them. This situation does make the Farm Bill more important than ever though. We must have a strong safety net for our farmers to help them get through these hard times with low prices, trade disputes, increasing cost of inputs, and increasingly volatile weather patterns due to global warming.
What is good for Georgia farmers in the House Farm Bill?
There are some positives in the House passed version of the 2018 Farm Bill. Animal disease has become a huge issue as we saw an instance of avian influenza (AI) in northwest Georgia. Currently, the House bill provides $450 million in mandatory funding over five years for programs such as the National Animal Health Laboratory Network, the National Animal Disease Preparedness and Response Program, and the National Animal Vaccine Bank. This ensures that we have what we need to fight AI now and the next thing Mother Nature throws at our livestock producers.
The 2018 House Farm Bill also includes an expansion for the classification of Beginning Farmers and Ranchers to farmers who have been managing the farm for less than 10 years. In the 2014 bill, the classification was less than 5 years. This will allow for better long-term planning for our Beginning Farmers and Ranchers who are so essential to the future of agriculture. Moreover, the bill continues to provide strong support for the cotton and peanut crops that are so integral to the identity of Georgia.