Ag groups give mixed reviews of Senate farm bill draft

By Derrick Cain

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

WASHINGTON, May 9, 2013 - The release of a draft farm bill from the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee today sparked several comments - mostly, but not all, positive - from agriculture-related groups.

Roger Johnson, president of the National Farmers Union (NFU), said his organization was encouraged that the draft included target price protection.

However, in order to be substantial, target prices need to be increased and balanced in a meaningful way,” Johnson said. “We urge the inclusion of stronger protection against long-term price collapse for all commodities in all regions. It is also promising that some important programs left out of the one-year extension of the 2008 farm bill, like the Beginning Farmer and Rancher Development Program, have been reauthorized and funded.”

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Johnson said crop insurance remains a necessary part of farmers' safety net, and was pleased that a compromise was reached to link conservation compliance requirements to crop insurance.

He also noted that the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) remains mostly unchanged from last year's bill, and that the conservation title remains essentially the same.

“NFU is very pleased to see a strong energy title that includes $800 million in mandatory funding for programs such as the Rural Energy for America Program, Biomass Crop Assistance Program, Biobased Markets Program and Biorefinery Assistance Program,” he said.

The Environmental Working Group (EWG) said the bill would increase unlimited crop insurance subsidies to the largest farm businesses and take “an unwelcome step toward the House Agriculture Committee bill by including new price guarantees for major commodity crops.”

Craig Cox, EWG senior vice president of agriculture and natural resources, said his group does welcome some of the provisions in the draft bill.

The discredited direct payment program would finally come to an end,” Cox said. “And it does retain the important conservation compliance provision that would require farmers who receive crop insurance premium subsidies to carry out basic environmental protections on their farms. Finally, the proposal would require means testing for producers who receive insurance subsidies.”

However, EWG said the draft falls short of needed far-reaching reform.

“While it includes the all-important conservation compliance provision, spending more on insurance and crop subsidies that are already lavish means that conservation and nutrition programs would be needlessly cut to hit deficit reduction targets,” Cox said. “We need a farm bill that provides a fiscally responsible safety net and makes critical investments in programs that protect public health and the environment. Overall, this new proposal takes us in the wrong direction.”

Jerry Kozak, president and chief executive officer of the National Milk Producers Federation (NMPF), said his organization was pleased that the draft bill again includes the Dairy Security Act (DSA).

“The DSA is the best approach for providing a cost-effective safety net for dairy farmers, and we commend [the committee leaders] for their efforts to pass the DSA into law,” Kozak said. “The DSA provides the right combination of effective risk management for dairy farmers while minimizing program costs to the taxpayer.”

Kozak noted that NMPF is part of a coalition of more than 50 state and national farm groups “that have been working since 2009 on replacing outdated dairy programs that don't work, with a new safety net that reflects that realities of dairy farming in the 21st century.”

Danny Murphy, president of the American Soybean Association (ASA), said the legislative language would strengthen crop insurance and ensure that a target price program remains decoupled from planting decisions.

“Combined with a revenue protection program similar to that included in last year's Senate bill, the proposed legislation takes significant steps to provide farmers with effective risk management programs while protecting planting flexibility and avoiding planting distortions,” Murphy said.


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