The U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry recently adopted its version of the farm bill with a 16-5 vote with broad bipartisan support. At press time, the full Senate was considering the bill, which would cut $23 billion in funding over 10 years. The changes are not unexpected since they track the recommendations from last year’s SuperCommittee to reduce the federal deficit. A House committee is expected to work on its version later this month.
The Senate version calls for eliminating the current Direct, Countercyclical, Average Crop Revenue Election and Supplemental Revenue Assistance (SURE) payment programs. In their place would be the new Agriculture Risk Coverage program, which would partially compensate growers for revenue declines not covered by federally subsidized crop insurance. Total ARC payments couldn’t exceed $50,000 but both qualified spouses on a farm could be eligible for up to $100,000. A new Supplemental Coverage Option would be available to many crops, including specialty crops.
“We are moving away from subsidies for farmers and moving toward crop insurance. This has been the trend for the last 30 years,” said Mary Kay Thatcher, policy specialist for American Farm Bureau, while talking about the farm bill and other congressional issues on Town Hall Ohio.
Ohio Farm Bureau supports the Senate version of the farm bill, said Yvonne Lesicko, Ohio Farm Bureau’s senior director of legislative and regulatory policy. She said the bill would strengthen the crop insurance program, continue marketing loans and create a shallow loss revenue program.
The bill cuts $15 billion from farm safety-net programs, $6 billion from conservation programs and about $4 billion from nutrition, which uses 75 percent of farm bill funding. While the bill proposes condensing 23 conservation programs into 13, those most important to Ohioans – the Conservation Reserve Program, Environmental Quality Incentives Program and Conservation Stewardship Program – would remain.
“We want a new farm bill because farmers need to know what programs will be in place so they can plan for the coming years,” Lesicko said. “This farm bill is headed in the right direction.”
Thatcher, who is currently working on her seventh farm bill, said that over the years it has become more important to explain the impact of changing production agriculture because more members of Congress haven’t lived on a farm. She said sometimes the best tactic is to ask lawmakers who are familiar with agriculture to talk to their colleagues instead of having a special interest group.
“More and more congressmen don’t have any connection to production agriculture and a greater percentage of the time is spent every year educating them,” she said.
Whether a farm bill will pass this year is the big question because there are not a lot of legislative days left, Thatcher said. If it isn’t passed in time, it likely will be extended.
“The problem is that there is going to be some kind of price to pay (if they don’t extend it), whether it’s cuts in subsidies or the amount of food stamps that go out,” she said.
Bob Young, a senior economist with AFBF who also spoke on Town Hall Ohio, said American Farm Bureau has been trying to dispel the notion that larger farms are corporately owned when in reality more than 90 percent are family operations. He also said production agriculture needs to continue to use technology.
“Congress likes technology in almost everything else we do but it seems they want to go back to the 1940s (with production agriculture),” he said.
Listen to Thatcher and Young on Town Hall Ohio at townhallohio.org.
Photo by Ty Kellogg