By Abrahm Hurt
INDIANAPOLIS — For small farmers like Jeff Hawkins, the current farm bill pending before Congress is designed to help larger farms and offers little to smaller farms like his own.
Hawkins, a fifth generation farmer from North Manchester in Wabash County, operates a 99-acre farm that belonged to his grandparents. He raises cattle, pigs, chickens, laying hens, turkeys, garden vegetables and small grains.
“I call it an Old McDonald farm,” Hawkins said. “It’s a moo, moo here and an oink, oink there.”
Farmer Jeff Hawkins and Sen. Joe Donnelly at the Indiana State Fair. Hawkins and Donnelly participated in a discussion about the 2018 Farm Bill. Photo by Abrahm Hurt, TheStatehouseFile.com
Hawkins was among 14 farmers at the State Fairgrounds on Tuesday meeting with U.S. Sen. Joe Donnelly. Donnelly, along with representatives from Indiana Farm Bureau, held a listening session to hear what Hoosier farmers would like to see in the 2018 Farm Bill.
The issues Hawkins deals with range from the every-day ones, such as his pigs escaping into his wife’s garden, to long-term problems like how to market his farm products.
“Daily issues for us involve the very real concern about marketing, local, small markets, that’s entirely on us to try to figure out how to do that,” he said. “Not just raise the things but sell the things.”
Hawkins said he would like to see a farm bill that provides more access to land and markets while also focusing on conservation.
Donnelly, who serves on the Senate Agriculture Committee, said he chose to work on the committee because of agriculture’s importance to Indiana.
“It’s a chance to work in an area so important to our state and so important to our families,” Donnelly said during the event. “It is, at the end of the day, almost like our lifeblood. It is who we are in this state.”
Indiana Farm Bureau President Randy Kron said he got involved in farm issue because he wants his son and the next generation to have the same opportunities he had.
“I think that’s why a lot of us sit around this table,” he said during the session. “We want to make sure the next generation can come back and thrive and have a great opportunity in agriculture.”
Indiana Farm Bureau created a task force of 30 farmers to research, discuss and present their findings to Donnelly. Their top priorities for the 2018 Farm Bill are to maintain crop insurance levels, conserve land and maintain trade levels.
Farmers at the session ranged from beekeepers wanting to see ways to provide more forage to protect bee populations to poultry farmers looking for more funding for disease prevention.
Hawkins’ focus was on the lack of available infrastructure for small farmers.
“We’ve ventured into raising small grains for human consumption, and as we’re doing that, we’re finding that there are no millers to mill it into flour,” he said. “There’s maybe one that we know of in the state.”
Donnelly, in a media availability after the session, said he was going to use and incorporate the information that was presented.
“I have a passion for family farms and a passion to make sure to make sure that every farmer’s included in putting this bill together,” he said. “That’s why we have all different types of groups with us here today from the largest to the smallest family farm.”
Abrahm Hurt is a reporter for TheStatehouseFile.com, a news website powered by Franklin College journalism students.