Farmers in every state rely in some way on the economic safety net provided in the 2008 farm bill, the American Farm Bureau Federation today told a House Agriculture subcommittee.
Which farm bill programs are judged most beneficial, however, depends largely on a farmer’s crop and region, according to Illinois Farm Bureau President Philip Nelson, who testified on behalf of AFBF.
“While our farmers are generally supportive of the safety net provided in the 2008 farm bill, it can sometimes feel like you’re reading the old children’s story ‘Goldilocks and the Three Bears’ when you talk to individual farmers about their experiences with farm programs," Nelson testified. “Some farmers think the safety net coverage provided under the 2008 farm bill is ‘just right’. But in other cases and for other farmers the coverage is sometimes too little. In a small number of cases, the coverage may even be duplicative and too much."
Nelson, an AFBF board member who raises grain and cattle near Seneca, Ill., told the lawmakers that as the nation’s budget tightens, Farm Bureau believes we should carefully evaluate where those gaps and areas of overlap exist in the current farm law.
“The first challenge will be the budget,” Nelson said. “We have seen the (budget) baseline for many farm bill programs decrease since passage of the last farm bill. More than 30 programs included in the last bill do not have any baseline at all, and the standard re-insurance agreement currently being negotiated threatens to rob even more spending baseline.”
The 2012 farm bill will be written in a difficult budget environment, but AFBF believes that five key principles should be followed during the rewrite process. Nelson outlined Farm Bureau’s five farm bill principles as:
• The options AFBF supports will be fiscally responsible.
• AFBF believes the basic funding structure of the 2008 farm bill should not be altered. In other words, money should not be shifted from one title of the farm bill to another.
• The proposals AFBF supports will aim to benefit all agricultural sectors.
• AFBF believes world trade rulings should be considered.
• And AFBF believes consideration should be given to the stable business environment that is critical to success in agriculture.
Nelson said that today both crop insurance and the farm bill Commodity Title programs provide the option of support to farmers based on revenue losses and not strictly price or yield risk.
“In some cases, this coverage is complementary,” Nelson said. “In other cases, it may even be duplicative. Yet, despite this convergence of farm programs and crop insurance, there are still many farmers who fall between the cracks and have little protection from volatile markets and weather.”
Nelson told the subcommittee the bottom line is that crop insurance and farm programs have changed “significantly over the past 20 years,” and these changes have left producers with different safety nets. He stressed that nearly all farmers, regardless of region, have found it beneficial to participate in “at least one component” of the commodity title of the 2008 farm bill.
Any changes to the bill should, he said, “focus on eliminating these gaps and redundancies in the safety net.”
While many concepts, such as whole-farm revenue options, will undoubtedly be floated during the farm bill rewrite, Nelson said that Farm Bureau would keep an open mind, but would be guided by its five farm bill principles.