HONOLULU, Jan. 8 – While noting that our nation’s tight budget constraints will likely dictate how much of a role the government will play in providing a farm bill safety net for farmers and ranchers, American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) President Bob Stallman had one primary request for delegates attending the organization’s 93rd annual meeting: Give us clear direction!
“Do what makes the most sense for the whole of American agriculture. Give our farm and ranch families the support they need most in light of the fiscal condition of our nation. And once all is said and done, let’s agree to get behind our policy and ride for the brand. Farm Bureau must lead this discussion,” he emphasized to the delegates who will kick off their resolutions session on Tuesday.
While AFBF delegates have been meeting for months to discuss and develop farm bill proposals, there has been a great deal of diversity among the delegates about the best path forward. Some southern state leaders demanded continuation of direct payments, which send about $5 billion into farmer’s pockets each year---regardless of whether they plant a crop. Others argued that direct payments are no longer sustainable in today’s fiscal environment and that a new form of safety net should be developed.
As leaders of the House and Senate Agriculuture Committees were developing farm bill recommendations to send to the Deficit Reduction Committee last fall, the AFBF Board of Directors approved a proposal to establish a “Systemic Risk Reduction Program,” which they presented as an alternative to “shallow loss” proposals that would provide government support after a region, or in some cases an individual farmer, faced some initial loss as little as 5 to 10 percent of expected revenue.
“Our systemic risk reduction program would help protect America’s farmers from catastrophic type losses that truly would endanger the economic viability and the core of their farms,” Stallman said when the systemic risk proposal was approved by the AFBF Board.
AFBF’s systemic risk reduction program would provide farmers “area-based coverage” that would be similar, but not identical to Group Risk Income Protection (GRIP) policies offered today, but at a minimal charge to the farmer. County level yield data would be used for the area trigger, but where data is limited, a crop reporting district or other geographical region would be used.
One of the major differences between current core-type policies and the systemic risk reduction program is the price used to determine trigger levels would be based on a three-year average, or a five-year Olympic average, depending on budget considerations. Proposed systemic risk reduction program coverage levels would likely be in the 70-80 percent range, with the exact level of coverage determined by budgetary guidelines. Additional details regarding the proposed program were sent to members of Congress today and are included in a document posted at: http://bit.ly/pGXGZT.
Stallman also talked about the need for regulatory certainty, noting that one reason the U.S. economy is struggling is the “incredible regulatory burden facing each man, woman and child.”
According to information released by the Small Business Administration, one of every three dollars earned by Americans goes to pay for or comply with federal laws and regulations.
“Of course, the costs are not shared evenly,” Stallman explained. “They fall hard on the backs of small businesses – like our family owned farms and ranches.
While some have criticized farm organizations for trying to prevent new regulations on farm dust, clean water, and farm labor---even if they have yet to be implemented---Stallman made a strong defense for trying to prevent agencies from enacting burdensome new red tape. The audience provided one of many several rounds of applause during his speech when he told them that, in December, with AFBF urging, the House passed H.R. 1633 – the Farm Dust Regulation Prevention Act.
“I am not sure how anyone could cast aspersions on farmers and ranchers for seeking regulatory certainty,” he emphasized. “That is especially true when rules are written in a way that often encourages lawsuits, even while regulators say they have no plans to target agriculture. How have those bureaucratic promises worked out for you in the past?
“Even if there is the slightest possibility of new expensive regulations, we cannot sit idly by as a dust devil of regulatory uncertainty overtakes us,” he added. “And we HAVE not.”
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