The American Farm Bureau Federation today in a letter to Senate Ag Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Ranking Member Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) commended their moving forward in a bipartisan fashion to write a new farm bill, but noted some concerns they hope can still be adjusted during a scheduled Wednesday markup session.
The Farm Bureau letter noted "high priority" on the lawmakers' decisions to:
- Stand firm on utilizing the figure of $23 billion in savings suggested to the Joint Committee on Deficit
- Reduction last fall as the committee’s reduction target for this bill;
- Protect and strengthen the federal crop insurance program and not reduce its funding;
- Develop a commodity title that attempts to encourage producers to follow market signals rather than making planting decisions in anticipation of government payments; and
- Refrain from basing any program on cost of production.
While the draft legislation addresses many of Farm Bureau's policy priorities, the letter said "it is our sincere hope there will be additional opportunities to make adjustments and refinements to improve this legislation. Some of the areas we believe would benefit from additional policy work include:
- Improving the equity across all commodities. The variety of program options continues to raise concerns that some programs will cause planting decisions based on farm program benefits that accrue more beneficially to a particular crop;
- Addressing the net effect of the "Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) Eligible Acres" provisions to ensure a true "planted acres" approach and avoid recreating "base acres" issues that raise equity and planting distortion concerns. While we support the requirements in the Committee Print to eliminate "double dipping" between either ARC or Stacked Income Protection Plan (STAX) with crop insurance, we still have concerns about an 89 or 90 percent coverage level being so high at the farm level as to induce fraud or abuse, as well as the fact that the federal government should not be covering losses that could be managed through the normal course of business; and
- Re-instituting current payment limitations and the Adjusted Gross Income provisions in current law.
Policy areas in the farm bill draft supported by Farm Bureau include:
- Elimination of Direct Payments, Counter-cyclical Payments, ACRE and the SURE program;
- Maintaining the current marketing loan program;
- Rejection of any provision linking conservation compliance with crop insurance;
- Improvements to the crop insurance program whereby enterprise unit coverage will be able to be purchased separately for irrigated and non-irrigated acres, the Risk Management Agency will be allowed to collect data from other sources besides the National Agricultural Statistics Service, and the yield plug used in disaster years is increased from 60 percent to 70 percent;
- Mandating that the Risk Management Agency develop a revenue insurance program that meets the needs of peanut producers by 2013;
- Eliminating the dairy price support program and the Milk Income Loss Contract program and using the funds associated with those programs to offer a voluntary gross margin insurance program for dairy producers;
- Maintenance of the current sugar program;
- Inclusion of the Supplemental Coverage Option (SCO) whereby program crop producers, as well as producers of specialty crops, could purchase a county level revenue policy on top of their individual crop insurance coverage to cover all or part of a producer’s deductible portion of their individual insurance policy;
- Restoring the critical non-program crop disaster programs, such as the Livestock Indemnity
- Program, Livestock Forage Program and the Tree Assistance Program, to provide those producers with some basic risk management tools to help address catastrophic losses;
- Allowing for separate coverage for irrigated and non-irrigated crops for SCO, STAX and enterprise unit crop insurance;
- Achieving the vast majority of necessary reductions in conservation funding from the land retirement programs rather than working land programs;
- Consolidating conservation provisions under 13 programs, rather than 23, and focusing on administrative savings and simplicity in the remaining programs;
- Expansion of the State Block Grants for Specialty Crops program and funding for research for specialty crops as well as technical assistance at USDA; and
- Authorization for a public/private foundation to solicit private donations to enhance research for meeting expanding global demand for food.