Dairy and specialty crop producers share policy needs at Farm Bill field hearing

By Sarah Gonzalez

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.

SARANAC LAKE, New York, March 9, 2012- Specialty crop and dairy producers testified at a House Agriculture Committee Farm Bill hearing today in Saranac Lake, New York. This morning's field hearing is the first of a series to be held throughout March and April to gather input for the 2012 Farm Bill.

"This is a tremendous opportunity for New York to make its voice heard as Congress crafts the next Farm Bill,” said Rep. William Owens (D-N.Y.). “Farms across our state sell more than $4 billion in produce annually, but the economic impact is far greater.”

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Eric Ooms, dairy producer in Old Chatham, New York, said Farm Bill policy must recognize that input prices for farmers are not going down, “in fact, the price of fuel is rising,” while next year's forecast shows softening milk and cheese prices. Ooms, New York Farm Bureau vice president, said it is important to remember that while the 2009 dairy price plunge was a horrible experience for all dairy producers, “we cannot set policy for the next five (or fifty) years based solely on one year, but rather look at long term trends.”

He expressed his support for the Dairy Security Act, a proposed bill sponsored by House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Min.), to reform existing pricing and safety net policies. 

“Farm Bureau supports the Dairy Security Act because the supply management component of this proposal is voluntary,” he said. “If an individual producer chooses to limit production and the Federal Government wants to incentivize this, that is the producer's decision and we support that.”

Jeremy Verratti, dairy and crop producer in Gasport, New York, also said he supports the principles of the legislation for Verratii Farms and his cooperative, Upstate Niagara. 

“Margin insurance that is promoted and partially subsidized by the Federal government would be very helpful in weathering the bumps in the road that disrupt normal market pricing,” he said. 

Both dairy and crop producers who testified at the hearing emphasized their support for working lands conservation programs, particularly the Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP).

“Keeping vital and productive lands in production and protecting the environment at the same time should be our goals when funds are limited,” said vegetable, field crop and beef producer from Stephentown, New York, Larry Eckhardt. 

Eckhardt also said he wants to see changes for the distribution of conservation funds in his state. He suggested that the role of the Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS) be “returned to its real and original purpose-providing technical assistance to farmers for installing needed practices-and leave the handling of the funds for cost-sharing these practices to FSA.”

Eckhardt, as well as other specialty crop producers at the hearing, insisted on the need to improve crop insurance for specialty crops. He said the Non-Insured Disaster Assistance Program (NAP) is the only coverage offered for most nontraditional specialty crops, but “when there is a partial loss, most often there is no coverage at all.”

“There should be a buy-up option so farmers can better protect themselves and manage their individual risk,” he said. “Although NAP is pretty cost-effective, the record-keeping can become overwhelming for farmers who have many crops-maybe 30 or more-and recordkeeping should be streamlined.”

Wine grape producer in Penn Yan, New York, Scott Osborn, said he hoped the specialty crop title of the last Farm Bill would be expanded. 

“The North East is mostly made up of specialty crop producers and this recognition is helpful to the success of farming in our areas,” he said. “The last Farm Bill was a promising start, but needs to be continued and expanded so that specialty crops can contribute even more to the American agricultural economy.”

The House Agriculture Committee will continue its Farm Bill field hearings in two weeks in Galesburg, Illlinois, while the Senate Agriculture Committee holds its fourth Farm Bill hearing of the year in Washington, D.C. on Wednesday, March 14. 



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