First of House Ag farm income hearings has an eye on the future

By Spencer Chase

© Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc.



WASHINGTON, April 14, 2016 - The topic of declining farm income is not a new one, but lawmakers and farm group leaders approached it in a new way on Thursday, framing the conversation around the lessons learned going into the next farm bill.

The House Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management held the first of a six-part series of hearings to “Focus on the Farm Economy,” fixing the conversation on farm income and how producers are reacting to the changing economic times.

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“We do not see a crisis today, but we do see one on the horizon,” American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall said at the hearing.

Duvall and other witnesses all stressed the need for a safety net - such as crop insurance or commodity assistance policies, like Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) or Price Loss Coverage (PLC) - given current economic conditions. Joe Outlaw, an agricultural economics professor and extension economist with Texas A&M, said the debate over which producer assistance program is most important is a moot point, because both have proven to be critical to producers.

“In my opinion, the interest groups that continue to call for changes that would negatively impact (crop insurance and commodity assistance policies) clearly either have no idea how difficult the financial situation is across agriculture or they simply do not care,” Outlaw said.

At future hearings, the panel won't just be working on farm bill language - it will be working to defend the bill's importance, a House Ag Committee staffer told Agri-Pulse. Both lawmakers and industry representatives have noted that passing another farm bill will be difficult.

“Farm bills are not written to make the good times better, they're written to make the bad times bearable,” Rep. Rick Crawford, an Arkansas Republican and the chair of the subcommittee, said. “We're putting an awful lot of pressure on an already pretty thin farm bill.”

Some ag interests, however, namely Duvall and National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson, have told Agri-Pulse that opening up the current farm bill to provide further assistance is not the answer. As Johnson put it: “We worry that it may get worse rather than better if that happens.” The general farm group leaders pushed for stability in the safety net, along with a proposal to add cottonseed as an oilseed under ARC and PLC.

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Johnson was the only witness to get specific about what he would like to see in the next farm bill - an increase in PLC reference prices. The rest of the panel and the presiding lawmakers all spoke to the importance of unity and support for agriculture as the drafting process begins.

“When we get in to writing the next farm bill, one of the things that we have to make sure of is that we don't allow commodity groups to be pitted against commodity groups,” Georgia Republican Austin Scott said at the hearing. “This is agriculture, our rural economy, and quite honestly feeding Americans that we've got to get the policies right for.”


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