Top priorities for the co-ops for the next farm bill?

“First, we’ve been working hard to ensure there are adequate resources for the farm bill.

“It seems no matter where you go when people start talking about cutting the deficit, farm programs are the first thing mentioned. Our membership favors big deficit reduction but, at the same time, they want some acknowledgement that farm programs and agriculture programs are not the contributing factor to this. As a matter of fact, these programs have come down in cost very substantially. Today, they’re less than 8 percent of the entire USDA budget.

“So, our first priority is ‘Please, treat us like we should be. (farm programs) are not the cause but we’re willing to contribute our fair share.’”

On a second priority…

“Second, we’ve got a big interest in the specialty crop portions of the farm bill.

“Many of the risk management programs have been fine-tuned over many years to help Midwest row-crops, in particular. But they haven’t necessarily been fine-tuned to the point where they’re good for all regions and good for a lot of the specialty crops grown in this country. We’ve been working with our membership to make sure that those risk management tools are available to you whether you’re growing corn, cotton or grapes.”

Having seen the various programs since 1981 are you on the crop insurance bandwagon, right now? That seems to be the way things are shaping up…

“There’s no question that as I’ve traveled the country – and I’ve been all over in the last year meeting with co-ops and co-op farmer/owners – they tell me time and again that crop insurance is their Number One risk management tool.

“The (pro-crop insurance) message that seems to be strong in the farm bill debate is not being generated out of Washington. I think this is Washington clearly hearing a lot of producers.

“We’ve been hearing that for a while from the corn, soybean and wheat growers. But we’re hearing it more broadly now.

“I tell audiences that if crop insurance isn’t working for your commodity or region of the country, you need to come see us. You need to work with us to try and make it work for you. I believe, down the road, crop insurance will be the Number One risk management tool that USDA administers and the second will be a distant second.”

That leads to questions that come up in the Mid-South every farm bill – cotton and rice and the specific issues they bring to the table. Can a crop insurance product for rice be developed that is satisfactory to the producers?

“I was in Jonesboro, Ark., within the last month and said that crop insurance seems to be the wave of the future. I heard strongly from them that crop insurance is difficult to make work for the rice industry.

“There isn’t the same production peril because you have more control (over production like irrigation). Other factors provide the risk for rice production.

“There will always be unique circumstances. My experience with farm bills is that Congress is always willing to address those truly unique circumstances…

“Crop insurance is not just about indemnifying production today. Most of the plans being marketed are revenue-based. Can these be tailored to better fit the rice industry? Particularly the rice industry in the Mid-South? I think those are open questions, at this point.”

If you’ve talked to rice farmers, I’m sure you heard about their desires to see the markets in Cuba opened. With your history, what you saw at USDA, what was going on behind the scenes regarding that issue? Where are the major pressures being exerted from that are preventing the Cuban markets from being opened?

“Within each and every administration, there are people whose responsibility is national security interests. They don’t see right or left. They see straight-ahead security interests. Those people say that the current regime in Cuba is not a friend of the United States and, therefore, we shouldn’t do anything to encourage them in any way. (They) interpret that in the broadest possible sense.