Some students of Wilmington College have spent the last semester doing what Congress could not — create a comprehensive farm bill. While legislators have been scrambling to replace the expired farm bill, the Wilmington Ag Policy class focused on creating one of their own and learning how law can affecting agriculture in the process.
“The main goal was basically to build an understanding of our current farm bill and the legislation that goes along with that, form our own opinion, and better educate ourselves,” said Dani Lump, a Wilmington College senior who just took the class.
Course teacher Corey Cockerill divided the students between the House and Senate in a successful attempt to build understanding of the difficulties in conceiving a farm bill all sides could accept.
“Walking into the semester before I started the class, I thought I was somewhat educated on our farm bill and some ideas behind it. The more we dove into it, the more I realized I really didn’t know,” Lump said. “That was kind of a kicker for me coming from an ag background.”
Lump and her family are grain farmers near her hometown of DeGraff in Logan County. The class went in-depth regarding the history of farm law, teaching students topics ranging from the origin of subsidies to the first nutrition program. The course was made up of predominately agricultural majors, though there were several non-agricultural majors also involved as well. The unique blend of backgrounds gave students an opportunity to learn the reasoning behind different points of view.
“Most of us had the same idea walking into it, however we did have quite a few other opinions on the other end of the spectrum,” she said. “We were forced to come up with joint ideas everybody agrees on.”
Lump said the creation of their farm bill was done in a slightly different way than on Capitol Hill, with mutual agreement between groups replacing the voting process. The project did not lack detail, even having discussion about the titles of the bills. Some finer points were even brought up like the support of a conservation drainage program where subsidies would help fund installation of field tile.
Some topics within the law were easily settled. A heavy majority of students agreed with conservation as an important area to fund and some bringing up program ideas along the way.
Other areas of the law saw more discussion time. The nutrition component of the bill (the SNAP program) took up a major portion of class time and was one of the points where disagreement was evident. Lump said that in the end, the class aimed to make drastic changes to the controversial section.
“The highlight of our farm bill was the SNAP program. We really decided to hone in on it because that’s 80% of the budget — the food stamps,” she said. “One thing that was really important was cutting down on fraud. SNAP gets a bad rap for those who abuse it. If we could cut down on fraud, that could reduce our budget as well and we dealt with certain ways we could do that.”
The class also made a major decision to cut out subsidies. Students reasoned that it would be a fair cut across the board and be a key part of reducing the budget.
The Ag Policy students finished the class more informed on agricultural law. Some gained an appreciation for the role of large farms in feeding a growing world while others left with a better understanding of the many separate views of consumers and producers.
Lump said a major takeaway of the class was the importance of the legislation to all groups and not just agriculture.
“It definitely affects you even if you think it doesn’t,” she said. “People hear ‘farm bill’ and they only think that it affects people in agriculture and it’s not like that. We use the analogy of, ‘If you drink milk, it affects you. If you buy produce, this affects you.’”
The class titled the bill the “Reconnecting Food & Farm Act of 2013” as a reflection of their hope to help consumers gain a better appreciation of their food’s origin, as well as promoting agriculture in a positive light.
“I think we did come to a common core idea that could be utilized in our government. I would have trouble understanding why it wouldn’t do well in the rest of society,” she said.
After the bill was completed, about 30 students of the class delivered a copy to the office of Rep. Steve Stivers (R) of Ohio’s 15th District. Congress is well over a year late in replacing the 2008 Farm Bill that expired in the fall of 2012 and was extended to September 30 this past year.