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Agriculture News As It Happens

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Southern farmers raise farm bill concerns, seek delay

A coalition of southern farm groups late today asked Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich. and ranking member Pat Roberts, R-Kan., to postpone Wednesday’s scheduled farm bill markup until at least after the weeklong recess that begins Friday.

“Our first blush impression is that the mark raises serious equity issues and grave concerns over planting distortions,” the groups said, adding that they want more time to consider the bill.

The letter was signed by the Southern Peanut Farmers Federation, the Western Peanut Growers Association, the National Cotton Council, the National Sorghum Producers, the US Rice Producers Association the USA Rice Federation and the Oklahoma Wheat Growers Association.

Neither Stabenow nor Roberts could be reached for comment.

Meanwhile, the National Farmers Union says it basically likes the Senate Agriculture Committee's draft of the farm bill, while the American Farm Bureau Federation sent a letter today detailing what it likes and does not like about the bill.

Other groups had mixed reactions to the bill, which was released on Friday.
Roger Johnson, National Farmers Union

Roger Johnson, National Farmers Union
“Overall, NFU is pleased with the legislation,” NFU President Roger Johnson said in a news release issued Friday.

“While NFU applauds the effort to deal with price declines, we are concerned that it does not do enough to protect against long-term price collapses,” Johnson said.

“With current prices, the safety net in the committee print provides for ample protection for farmers and ranchers. History has shown that periods of high prices do not last, and when prices do fall for multiple years in a row, the level of protection that farmers receive will go down as well, while input prices drop more slowly.”

He also said, “NFU is deeply concerned that core energy title programs did not receive real funding. The Rural Energy for America Program, Biomass Crop Assistance Program, Biorefinery Assistance Program, and Biobased Markets Program are a critical part of creating jobs and revitalizing rural America.

Bob Stallman, American Farm Bureau Federation

Bob Stallman, American Farm Bureau Federation
After a board meeting by conference call today, Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman wrote Stabenow and Roberts that numerous provisions of the bill follow Farm Bureau’s “core principles for ‘rational, acceptable farm policy,” but “there is room for adjustments to improve the legislation.”

Farm Bureau praised Stabenow and Roberts for keeping the cut in the farm bill to $23 billion, for protecting the crop insurance program, and for not basing the commodity title on the cost of production.

Reflecting the organization’s national scope representing all producers, Stallman also wrote that the Farm Bureau continues to support a single program option for the commodity title that is extended to all crops, and that it has concerns about the need for improved “equity across all commodities.”

The letter also stated that Farm Bureau will continue to work toward provisions in the bill for a financial safety net that includes a “catastrophic revenue loss program based on county level losses” with coverage at 80 percent of revenue levels.

Garry Niemeyer, National Corn Growers Association

Garry Niemeyer, National Corn Growers Association
National Corn Growers Association President Garry Niemeyer said in a statement today that his group “is pleased to see the committee listened to the concerns of our nation’s corn growers and have done a great job keeping our priorities under consideration while drafting the legislation. NCGA believes the committee print is consistent with what our members have been advocating.”

The National Wildlife Federation said it has accepted the $6 billion cut in conservation and appreciates the creation of a new Regional Conservation Partnership Program as a competitive, merit-based process to target conservation funding in areas of greatest need. As a result, resources can be targeted to reduce pollution in America’s Great Waters, like the Great Lakes and Chesapeake Bay, the federation said.

But the group also said its member are “troubled” by the lack of conservation compliance as a requirement for crop insurance participation.

The federation also noted that it had asked that a “sodsaver” provision be added to the farm bill in order to end crop insurance premium subsidies and other federal benefits for bringing virgin grasslands into production. The group also noted that it had asked for provisions to require those farming highly erodible land to have a plan to control erosion and for producers to refrain from draining wetlands on their properties, and would attempt to get those added in the legislative process.

A coalition of trade groups and organizations representing renewable energy, energy efficiency, farm and environmental interests today expressed disappointment that the draft bill provides no real funding for energy programs.‬

The Biotechnology Industry Organization and a group called the Ag Energy Coalition notes that the bill eliminates or drastically cuts mandatory funding for these programs.

“REAP, BCAP, Biorefinery Assistance and BioPreferred, among others, have produced results across the country, especially in rural America where jobs are dwindling,” the coalition said, adding that it would try to improve the energy programs of the bill.

A large coalition of agriculture exporters sent Stabenow and Roberts a letter today saying they were pleased that the bill maintains funding for the Market Access Program (MAP) at no less than $200 million annually and the Foreign Market Development (FMD) program at no less than $34.5 million, the same funding levels in the current farm bill.

Mike Wootton, a senior vice president with Sunkist Growers cooperative, who chairs the coalition, said it is important to maintain the funding because foreign governments are seeking to emulate the success of MAP and FMD with their own competing programs. The letter was released by U.S. Wheat Associates.