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Comer says upcoming farm bill is key for Kentuckians

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Comer named to conference committee for farm bill

By Zac Oakes

 

U.S. Rep. James Comer, the representative for Kentucky’s 1st Congressional District, which includes Taylor County, has his sights set on providing some help to Kentucky’s ailing farmers as commodity prices continue to drop. 

That job became a little easier when Comer was announced as a member of the Farm Bill Conference Committee, the first Kentucky congressman to serve on that committee in nearly three decades. 

Comer holds an extensive background in agriculture. He was the state’s agriculture commissioner from 2012-2016 and owns a farm in his native home of Tompkinsville. 

That background, Comer said, gives him a lot of knowledge about issues local farmers are facing in Kentucky and across the U.S., knowledge he can bring to the table as the House and the Senate aim to iron out some differences in legislation so that it can be brought to the President for approval. 

“I really care about agriculture, and that is what my background is in,” Comer told the CKNJ. 

Both the U.S. House of Representatives and Senate passed farm legislation, but they have key differences, Comer said, so the committee will work to try to create comprehensive legislation that Comer said could be “the biggest piece of legislation this year.” 

“The farm bill will probably be the biggest piece of legislation that passes Congress this year,” Comer said. “Last year it was the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act, and this year it will be the farm bill.” 

Comer said the farm bill will have a great impact on Kentucky, including farmers in the local area. While the impact of many pieces of federal legislation has little impact in this area, Comer said the impact of this farm bill will be felt by many Kentucky farmers. 

“I understand that the farm bill probably has more impact on rural America than any piece of legislation that Congress will vote on over the next two years,” Comer said. “… With the problems with the trade wars, the farm bill is more important than ever because commodity prices are at record lows, and I feel like with my background in agriculture and being a farmer, I bring a lot to the table,” Comer said.

One of Comer’s main priorities with the farm bill is seeking language in the bill that will legalize hemp, an issue that Comer has been very much in favor of since his days as agriculture commissioner. 

“When I was commissioner of agriculture, we were the first state to start the industrial hemp program, and it has been a success story in Kentucky,” Comer said. “Unfortunately there is still a lot of opposition to hemp, especially in Washington.” 

Comer said many congressional representatives come from areas where there has been no industrial hemp program, so many do not differentiate between hemp and marijuana. 

Hemp contains only trace amounts of THC, the intoxicating substance in marijuana, and is not used to get high. Hemp also serves many agricultural and nutritional purposes.

“One of the reasons I think that I was selected to be on the conference committee is so that I can try to make sure that the hemp language stays in the final version,” Comer said. “I am going to do everything in my ability to educate the other conferees and other members of Congress about what hemp really is and the great success it has had in Kentucky over the last five years.”

On issues facing dairy farmers, Comer said both the House and Senate versions aim to provide assistance for dairy farmers, but with the deteriorating dairy situation in Kentucky and other states, he wants to provide a voice for those dairy farmers.

“It raises the support levels for dairy and recalculates what the average price of milk is,” Comer said. “The milk has been going down… the average wasn’t keeping up with rapid price decline, but honestly, the dairy situation has descended even further since the House and Senate each passed their farm bills, so I want to be on there to represent the small dairy farmers and get more support for the family dairy farmers. I think that is something that needs to happen in the conference committee. I think we need to add more support for dairy farmers.”

Comer also mentioned soybean farmers as needing assistance, an area he said he knows well as that is the primary crop grown at his farm in Tompkinsville. 

The price of soybeans continues to fall, according to Comer, at no fault of local soybean farmers. Instead, he pointed out that China is no longer buying American soybeans, causing a price collapse. 

“A lot of things have happened in the last few weeks since the House and Senate passed their versions with respect to export markets that need to be addressed in this farm bill,” he added.  

He said he was honored to have a role on the committee, especially being a freshman (a representative elected for the first time), which is not a common occurrence. 

“I am one of only six members of Congress, out of 435 in the House, that actually is a farmer,” Comer said. “So I kind of understand many of the challenges that our family farmers are facing. I understand what the impending trade wars have done to a lot of commodity prices in agriculture. I grow a lot of soybeans, so I see it firsthand. I am living it.

“… I want everyone on this conference committee to understand that this bill will have a major impact on rural America... I will be representing the farmers and rural America on this conference committee.” 

The farm bill is renewed every five years. The last farm bill was drafted in 2014. The current bill expires at the end of September.