Rep. Bob Latta (right) speaks with local farmers during his tour of Van Wert and Mercer counties Friday. (Times Bulletin/Ed Gebert)
BY ED GEBERT
Times Bulletin Editor
VAN WERT - Congressman Bob Latta is no stranger to the area and no stranger to agriculture. The Republican lawmaker from Bowling Green was raised in an agricultural family as was his wife. On Friday, he toured Van Wert and Mercer counties to talk to area farmers about their worries and successes."This is our August work period. I have 14 counties, and I represent the largest number of farmers in the State of Ohio. I also represent about 60,000 manufacturing jobs. It's a very unique district. This is the only way I know how to do my job in my district," Latta stated. "Today I really wanted to be out on the agricultural side. Agriculture is Ohio's largest industry. If we don't have agricultural producers in this country in the future, well we don't want this country to ever become dependent on another country for its food source. Once you lose your food source, you're pretty much done as a country."
After a morning visit to the Bonifas Farm near Venedocia, Latta made a stop at Heffelfinger Farms on Greenville Rd., south of Van Wert. Several topics were tossed around as area farmers got a chance to bend the congressman's ear. Aside from weather and crops, Latta was asked about progress on a new Farm Bill in Congress. The efforts to work out a new bill have yielded only slow progress, but Latta said he was told by the House Agriculture Committee Chair that the work will continue.
"We're on a one-year continuing resolution on the old Farm Bill, but we need a new Farm Bill because we want to get rid of things like direct payments, there's $20 billion in cuts there, there's $20 billion in cuts on the food and nutrition side," revealed Latta. "This Farm Bill, as it was first proposed, only 20 percent will impact agriculture. The other 80 percent is on the food and nutrition side. It's important to keep moving forward.
The Farm Bill was combined with food and nutrition legislation back in 1973 to get more support from urban districts. That support has been necessary. Although the farm side used to contain the majority of the attention, now it is the food and nutrition actions which compose most of the bill.
That statistic emphasizes the shrinking voice of the American farmer. The congressman noted that today, less than two percent of Americans are on farms, and that percentage drops to just one percent on farms in the state of Ohio.
He said, "That voice of agriculture, unfortunately, has gotten smaller, so it's so important for folks to talk to their legislators, that the come down to D.C., they have to let people know exactly what they are doing out here... People don't realize there's a tremendous cost in farming."
Once Congress is back in session on Sept. 9, lawmakers will have just 21 days to pass a Farm Bill or else things will revert back to the 1949 law, and prices on food items could easily double virtually overnight.
Another big topic on the afternoon was the volume of regulations affecting farmers.
"There are $1.8 trillion of regulations on businesses, individuals and farmers in this country today," Latta declared. "And people wonder why sometimes things get more expensive? You have to hire more people to figure out what the regulations are. There's a real question about some of these regulations if they are even necessary. And have the regulators seen what those regulations would do out in the real world?"
Latta mentioned the effort 18 months ago at making new safety rules for farms that would have kept farm kids from working on family farms.
"If it wasn't for the American farmer mobilizing, they would have got that rule pushed on America. I'm not sure where we'd be in the future trying to keep kids on the farm!" Latta exclaimed. "It's just absolutely horrendous what comes out of Washington. They write the rules and just say, 'OK, you guys, just do it.'"
The group also noted issues in immigration which penalizes farmers if they unknowingly hire an illegal alien who provides false documentation. Latta pointed out that while the U.S. Senate attacked the immigration issue with one huge piece of legislation, the House opted to take on the issue in pieces, working first to secure borders, then turning to some sort of visa system that would allow farmers to hire foreign workers for jobs that Americans simply will not do.
Latta continued his Friday swing by visiting Mercer Landmark in Celina, then Boeckman Farms on U.S. 127 north of Celina. Overall, Latta expressed his approval of the job being done by area farmers.
"When I look around Van Wert County and I go down to Mercer County, farmers are producing food at a very inexpensive cost for the American consumer," he stated.