On Thursday, June 9, Senators Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) and Tim Johnson (D-S.D.) introduced the Rural America Preservation Act of 2011, a bill designed to lower the per farm cap on farm commodity program payments, simplify eligibility, and ensure that payments flow to working farmers.

Senator Grassley has previously championed similar legislation, co-sponsored for many years by former Senator Byron Dorgan (D-N.D.) and in the last Congress by former Senator Russ Feingold (D-Wisc.). 

The bill received strong bipartisan support in the Senate, winning the votes of a majority of Senators in 2002 and again in 2007.  It did not become law, however.

The bill would lower the direct payment cap from $40,000 to $20,000 for an individual or twice that for a married couple where both spouses are actively engaged in the farming operation. 

The bill would also lower the cap on counter-cyclical payments from $65,000 to $30,000 ($60,000 for an actively engaged couple) and re-institute a cap on loan deficiency payments and marketing loan gains at $75,000 ($150,000 for an actively engaged couple).  

The combined cap on all payments for a married couple would be $250,000.

To receive farm payments, current law requires a contribution of 1,000 hours of labor on the farm or involvement in its management.  However, the vague and largely unenforceable regulatory standard for “actively managing” farm operations has foiled lawmakers’ attempts to target payments to working farmers.