Producers’ experiences with USDA’s local offices working to deliver farm and conservation programs can be dramatically improved by streamlining programs and using more Internet and cell phone communication, Washington state wheat farmer Brett Blankenship testified to the Senate Agriculture Committee on Thursday.
Blankenship, who grows soft white winter wheat, dark northern spring wheat and spring barley near Washtucna in Washington’s Adams County, was the sole agricultural producer speaking at the hearing, called to examine farm bill program accountability and efficiency.
In his written and oral testimony, he outlined in detail the structure of his family’s farm partnership and the administrative burden the farm business faces when managing program participation. He also described his experiences with the various organizations he and his farm partners must interact with on a regular basis, including USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) and Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS); his crop insurance agent; his banker; and his landlords.
“Like most farmers, I participate in many government and quasi-government programs. All of these programs and offices the farmer interacts with are ‘silos’ of sorts with different rules and procedures. To complicate matters further, they don’t generally talk to one another for legal, technological or cultural reasons,” he testified.
Though he stopped short of advocating specific policy changes, Blankenship did make some suggestions from his personal experience about how to improve interactions between USDA and agricultural producers.
In addition to using communication methods online and via mobile computing, Blankenship described how his use of GPS-based data management has streamlined his work. He also said that, based on his experience, service available at county offices could be more standardized, and Congress could consider effects of consolidating program management and rules.
Blankenship also noted that while his testimony described the confusion farmers can face when participating in USDA programs, the Department has made great strides in recent years in improving county-level service. He said producers are grateful for county staff that are, in large part, extremely dedicated in the face of tight budgets and incomplete training.
“I appreciated the opportunity to provide the grower perspective at today’s hearing,” he said about the meeting. “The farmers I know are aware of how critical our country’s budget situation is, and I am happy to provide some perspective for the Committee Members as they look at each program individually and program delivery overall.”
Blankenship is a past president of the Washington Association of Wheat Growers and a current Director of the National Association of Wheat Growers, though he testified on his own behalf.
To read Blankenship’s testimony in full, please visit www.wheatworld.org/farmbill.