KFB Candid Conversation with Congressman James Comer

Posted on Feb 14, 2019

KFB Candid Conversation presents a discussion about the topical issues facing the agricultural industry and rural communities in a question and answer format. In this column, Congressman James Comer talks about the Farm Bill, which includes legislation to bring back industrial hemp as a production crop and advocating for agriculture at the Congressional level. Congressman Comer was honored with the inaugural American Farm Bureau Federation’s (AFBF) Outstanding New Member of Congress Award presented at the recent AFBF Annual Convention.

In being named the Outstanding New Member of Congress, how important is the connection to organizations like Farm Bureau when discussing and advocating for the agriculture industry?

“Farm Bureau is the Voice of Agriculture and Farm Bureau is the main reason we finally got the Farm Bill through. It is very important that farmers consider themselves grassroots activists and lobby their members of Congress and band together to have more power in trying to overcome a lot of the obstacles we have in passing legislation. There are always special interest groups that don’t agree with us and have other ideas of where tax dollars should go. So, it’s important that we in agriculture stick together through groups like Farm Bureau. For me personally, Farm Bureau has meant a lot. I grew up participating in all the Farm Bureau contests. After I graduated from Western Kentucky University with an ag degree and moved back to Monroe County and I started farming, I was on the Farm Bureau board. It has been a big part of my development over the years and I look forward to working with the organization for many more years to continue leading agriculture in the right direction.”    

Congressman James Comer (center) receives the AFBF Outstanding New Member of Congress Award from AFBF President Zippy Duvall (right) and Kentucky Farm Bureau President Mark Haney (left).

In looking at the Farm Bill vote, there was clear bipartisan support in both the House and Senate for this bill. Does that give you a certain level of optimism that this new Congress will demonstrate some of the same bipartisanship in other pieces of legislation?

“The Farm Bill is the one major bill, in the two years that I’ve been in Congress, that I can say was bipartisan. Hopefully we’ll have more because with this new Congress, everything is going to have to be bipartisan. Both ends of the political spectrum are going to have to realize that every piece of legislation is not going to be very liberal or very conservative, but more to the middle. I think that if we are sincere about governing, we’re going to have to have bipartisan compromise.”

 In talking about the new Farm Bill, in your estimate, is there something you see in that bill as most important and will be of immediate help to farm families?

“The most important part of the Farm Bill, as far as I’m concerned, is the federal crop insurance program. With the current price of corn and soybeans, it was imperative that we have a stable, reliable federal crop insurance program for our next growing season or there were going to be a lot of farmers, especially young farmers, who would have difficulty getting lines of credit to plant their crops. And I hope that we have a bill that has created, with this bill, an environment where farmers will find, when they go to their Farm Service Administration office, for whatever business they have, that it will be a little easier and a little less bureaucratic to do business with.”  

The Hemp Farming Act was included within the Farm Bill legislation.  How do you think that industry will look in Kentucky?

“For those growing the fiber type of industrial hemp, that will be done on larger farms to justify growing this type of crop and it will take more land. It’s more like corn and soybeans in that usually, to be successful with those crops, you have to do it on a pretty large scale. If you are growing the type of plant for CBD oil, then I see that as an alternative for small farmers because it’s a lot like tobacco. In fact, it’s probably more labor intensive than tobacco. It’s actually more like a horticulture crop. The good thing about hemp is, you’ll have two different types of hemp farmers who will emerge. And I’m always looking for opportunities for small farmers. Hemp has been an interesting issue from the start and there has been a lot of interest. The session we held at the AFBF Convention was standing room only. I was shocked at how many people show up but it’s a tough environment in agriculture right now. A lot of farmers are trying to find an alternative crop to grow.”

As a farmer yourself, and one of the few in this Congress, do you find yourself having to educate some of your colleagues about the ag industry?

“It’s very difficult and frustrating at times in Congress because very few of the members have any idea what a real farm looks like.  They either have the image of a few chickens running around in the front yard or they view every farm as a mega-corporation. They don’t realize what the average farm in Kentucky is all about and what the average farmer is all about. So, what I tried to explain, when talking to a skeptical colleague about passing the Farm Bill, was to ask if we wanted to outsource our food production much like we did with some of our manufacturing. Do we really want to buy food from third-world countries? We should produce our food in the United States, and I think that, in the end, that convinced a lot of people to support the Farm Bill. I was very pleased with the final vote and I give Farm Bureau much of the credit in getting it across the finish line. The organization also does much to help educate the members of Congress about issues related to agriculture and rural America, as well as educating the media on how important agriculture is and the challenges we have in the industry.”

As you have watched your colleagues go through the process of passing this Farm Bill, how do you think they really feel about farmers in this country?

“No one is 100 percent satisfied with what was included in the Farm Bill, but, at the end of the day, I think farmers are one group of people who have overwhelming support in Congress whether you are Democrat or Republican; whether you live in the city or a small town. People respect farmers and respect our work ethic and they respect our values.”