By Sarah Gonzalez

Copyright Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc

WASHINGTON, July 27 - The necessity of the “food safety net” for the nation’s producers was emphasized by members of the House Committee on Agriculture during the eighth audit hearing in the series on farm policy, which examined Title I and the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Payments Program (SURE).
“Commodity support keeps farmers in business, which keeps food on our plates,” said Frank Lucas (R-Okla.), chairman of the House Committee on Agriculture.   “When I talk to farmers and ranchers, I hear a constant refrain: ‘We’re not asking for a handout; we just need a floor in place for when the bottom drops out.’ That’s what crop insurance and Title I programs provide - a floor, a safety net for food production.”
Bruce Nelson, administrator of the Farm Service Agency, and Juan Garcia, acting deputy administrator for Farm Programs of the Farm Service Agency, answered questions from members of the Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management during today’s hearing.
Nelson provided a summary of Title I commodity programs and disaster assistance programs administered by the Farm Service Agency. Each year, he said, FSA makes seven million separate payments to farmers and ranchers, approximately $4.9 billion in direct payments annually and with more than 33 million acres enrolled in the Average Crop Revenue Election Program (ACRE). The average gross income limit for the Direct and Counter-Cyclical Payment Program (DCP), ACRE and other programs was lowered in the 2008 Farm Bill, pushing the eligibility levels down to $750,000 for on-farm income and $500,000 for non-farm income, compared to the previous $2.5 million for all income. 
“The kind of dollars we're talking about here today pale in comparison to what foreign countries, both developed and developing, are providing their producers,” said Mike Conaway (R-Texas), chairman of the Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management.  “U.S. producers receive only a very basic level of support, and our markets are among the most open in the world.”
Conaway warned that “agriculture and farm policy are too important to our economy to short shrift.” He described his guiding principles for developing the 2012 Farm Bill, including the comprehensibility of the policy for producers and lenders, the equal treatment of various crops under the policy and how it is tailored to producers’ risks. 
“Our priority ought to be that we cover both the crop and livestock sectors with our safety net,” Nelson said. “And that we treat all regions equitably, because there are a lot of differences in agriculture around the country and one size doesn’t fit all.”
While recognizing the need to tighten agriculture program budgets during this attempt to reign in the spending spree in Congress, Lucas issued his reminder that cuts to these insurance and disaster relief programs must be done hesitantly and carefully.
“There aren’t enormous savings to be found from cutting farm programs,” said Lucas. “They compromise less than one-half of one percent of the federal budget. That’s only 50 cents out of every 100 dollars.”

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