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Farm groups step up with farm bill proposals

Farm groups that have not played a major role in the debate over the recommendations that the agriculture committees will send to the super committee on deficit reduction have been inundating Capitol Hill this week with detailed recommendations.

The National Association of Wheat Growers sent a letter Tuesday opposing any reductions in federal crop insurance, proposing that if direct payments are to be eliminated they be phased down over a three-year period or longer and ranking the type of and payment triggers for a revenue gap program.

The Izaak Walton League, a conservation group, said Tuesday that Congress should re-establish conservation compliance measures for federal crop insurance subsidies in the next farm bill "to ensure that farmers who receive federal tax dollars protect soil and water resources." Crop insurance subsidies, the league noted, "are the single largest means for providing public money to agriculture, covering more than 250 million acres of land and over 80 percent of commodity crops grown."

A coalition of groups supporting beginning and minority farmers has sent a letter to agriculture committee leaders urging retention and funding for programs that help those types of farmers.

The coalition asked for a renewal of the beginning farmer and rancher development program, the outreach and assistance for socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers program, the continuation of the Conservation Reserve Program transition initiatives program, and funding for the value-added grants program, the limited resource farmers' premium waiver for the noninsured crop disaster assistance program known as NAP.

The groups also asked for continuation of the tribal and farmworker programs, continuation of outreach programs, authority for USDA to create a liaison position for military veterans who are farmers and an increase in the credit levels for Farm Service Agency direct and guaranteed loan programs.

Also, House and Senate members this week introduced a Beginning Farmer and Rancher Opportunity Act that they hope will be included in the farm bill. The sponsors are Reps. Tim Walz, D-Minn., and Jeff Fortenberry, R-Neb., and Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa. The bill is supported by the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, the Land Stewardship Council and other groups.