National Editor Tom Karst recently chatted with Kam Quarles, director of legislative affairs for the Washington, D.C.-based McDermott Will & Emery law firm. Quarles was formerly vice president of government relations and legislative affairs for the Washington, D.C.-based United Fresh Produce Association.
3:05 p.m. Tom Karst: We hear a lot that farm issues are bipartisan, but now it seems they are perhaps less so. Is that something that you see, the increasing tension along party lines for ag issues? What is your sense on how the debate on farm policy is shaping up this year?
Quarles 3:06 p.m. Kam Quarles: I think the thing that is challenging for agriculture that is new — and it has actually been a continuing trend — is the dwindling number of congressional districts, House districts, that have production agriculture in them.
As the U.S. urbanizes and you tend to have migration toward the big city centers and large suburban areas, it is drawing people away from agricultural districts. It is putting a big burden on those members who have production in their districts as well as industry to explain to people that their food isn’t grown in the grocery store, it is actually produced somewhere — trying to educate them about the processes involved in bringing that abundant supply of food to the market place.
You have just a handful of votes on either side that could sway who is in control of the Senate or the House. Those tiny margins keep people looking very squarely at the next election. It has just created a lot of volatility.
That overlays really everything that is done back here. To some degree that impacts agriculture, but I still like to believe we really need to be bipartisan in nature if we are going to accomplish our goals.
3:08 p.m. Karst: Speaking of a big goal, the farm bill process is moving. Do you think enough can get done to move it through Congress and get it passed this year?
3:08 p.m. Quarles: I think there is certainly time to do it. The question is whether all the pieces can be put together before the Sept. 30 expiration.
We are likely heading toward one of these volatile election cycles and it is really going to depend on Congress’ appetite for being able to take on big policy objectives as you have an election marching closer and closer. It is tough to tell right now. I think the committees are very sincere in trying to put all the pieces together to give themselves the best opportunity to have a farm bill before expiration, but there is probably a lot of rough road between here and there.
3:09 p.m. Karst: You have also been witness and participant in the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance and seen how the industry has worked together over the past couple of farm bills. Do you think it is significant accomplishment, what has been done with this alliance?
3:10 p.m. Quarles: I think the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance is one of the most significant and positive developments for the industry over the last decade. The ability to come together with one unified voice and establish priorities for Congress and the administration in U.S. farm policy; it is very helpful for us as an industry to go through that process and it is also very helpful for the people who are writing these laws.