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Farm Bureau, northern commodities voice farm bill concerns as markup approaches

By JERRY HAGSTROM

The American Farm Bureau Federation and seven agricultural groups that represent commodities grown mostly in the North sent Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and ranking member Pat Roberts, R-Kan., a farm bill advice letter today, urging them not to tie current-year production to fixed price supports and to maintain planting flexibility.

The letter was sent in anticipation of a Senate Agriculture Committee markup of the farm bill next Wednesday. Growers of rice and peanuts have urged the committee to raise target prices. Stabenow and Roberts have collaborated on a joint proposal that may be released as soon as Friday.

In the letter, the Farm Bureau, the American Soybean Association, the National Association of Wheat Growers, the National Barley Growers Association, the National Corn Growers Association, the National Sunflower Association, the U.S. Canola Association and the USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council praised Stabenow and Roberts for sticking to their proposal last year to limit farm bill cuts to $23 billion over 10 years and not to restructure the crop insurance program.

But the groups also said they “advocate making changes in the crop insurance program to enhance its viability as a risk management tool, while maintaining the effectiveness of the existing program for other commodities.”

The groups added that they do not, however, support program alternatives that tie current-year production to fixed price supports, which they say “can distort planting decisions and production between commodities when market prices decline.”

Garry Niemeyer, National Corn Growers Association

Garry Niemeyer
“NCGA strongly believes a farmer should be able to absorb a price or yield loss in any given year,” said NCGA President Garry Niemeyer, a corn grower from Auburn, Ill. “However, we are trying to protect farmers, especially young farmers, when they are facing these types of losses multiple years in a row.”

In addition to crop insurance, the groups advocated heavily for planting flexibility for farmers.

“Our top policy priority for Title 1 in the 2012 farm bill is to maintain full planting flexibility and avoid potential planting distortions, so producers are encouraged to follow market signals rather than making planting decisions in anticipation of receiving payments under government programs,” stated the groups.

“With the anticipated elimination of direct payments and possible restructuring or elimination of the counter-cyclical program, it is imperative that any alternative program included in the next farm bill be structured in a manner to not distort planting decisions and to provide full planting flexibility.”

“Planting flexibility and limiting planting distortions are musts, not only for soybean farmers, but for farmers in each commodity group,” said ASA President Steve Wellman, a soybean farmer from Syracuse, Neb. “We need policies in place that allow and encourage farmers to plant for the market, and not for the government program.”

In the letter, the groups also promoted the concept of a new program to complement crop insurance.

“Our organizations support an approach that partially compensates for current-year revenue losses on a crop-specific basis,” said the groups. “We believe this approach would have an insignificant impact on planting decisions because of the percentage of risk covered. Also, revenue benchmarks would be adjusted annually to reflect recent average commodity prices, and certification of revenue loss would be required.”

Finally, the groups said they favor the continuation of the marketing loan program and urged the committee to oppose any changes in current law regarding payment limitations or eligibility for farm programs based on adjusted gross income.

They also appeared to oppose tying conservation compliance to crop insurance.

“Currently, 98 percent of U.S. producers participate in the farm program and comply with their conservation requirements,” stated the groups in the letter. “It is important that farmers remain in the program so that our country can maintain conservation compliance on agricultural lands.”