McGovern’s Dilemma as Farm Bill Heads to Conference

With the federal shutdown resolved for now, Congress is preparing to re-start talks on the stalled farm bill. One Massachusetts congressman involved in the negotiations is facing pressure from many sides.

Congressman Jim McGovern, a Democrat, is on the conference committee charged with trying to resolve widely differing House and Senate versions of the farm bill. The bill typically lumps together funds for farm support and nutrition programs. But the House version of the bill includes significant cuts to SNAP, or food stamps. McGovern says he wants to restore that funding.

“My number one concern is the concern I’ve had for many years, and that is combating hunger… in this country,” McGovern says.

But McGovern is also looking to boost funding for programs that support small farmers. And there are a lot of them in his central and western Massachusetts district. Richard Bonanno, head of the Massachusetts Farm Bureau says he’s concerned funding for small farms will be sacrificed to support nutrition programs.

“While I certainly see the need for both, I don’t think that we need to be constantly eroding the agriculture programs for the benefit of the nutrition programs,” says Bonanno.

Another competing priority Congressman McGovern will have to contend with: price supports for large crops like corn and soy beans, which he says have little benefit for New England farmers. McGovern says congressional staffers have begun preliminary talks on the legislation.