Representatives of major farm groups told leaders of the Senate Agriculture Committee on Friday that existing farm bill programs are inadequate to protect farmers from rising input costs.
“As you prepare to write the next farm bill, we respectfully request that you seek additional funding resources from the Budget Committee,” Brad Doyle, president of the American Soybean Association, said at a field hearing in Jonesboro, Ark., with Ag Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and ranking member John Boozman, R-Ark. Doyle farms near Weiner, Ark.
Nathan Reed, a Marianna, Ark., farmer testifying on behalf of the National Cotton Council, echoed Doyle’s appeal for more farm bill funding. “More resources are needed,” he said.
“Our input costs when paired with reduced commodity prices are not sustainable,” Reed said.
Stabenow told reporters after the hearing that it would be “a challenge” to write the next farm bill if there is no additional funding available.
“We'll have to be creative here as we make some tough decisions about how to meet the needs,” she said.
Stabenow has been pushing for a sharp increase in funding for conservation as part of President Biden’s Build Back Better legislation. But the measure has stalled and efforts to resurrect a slimmed-down version that would include climate-related provisions, including the conservation funding, have so far gone nowhere.
As at the first field hearing in Michigan in April, farm groups steered clear of offering specific policy proposals, reflecting the fact that commodity groups have yet to finalize their recommendations.
But Doyle pressed ASA's position that the $8.40-per-bushel reference price for soybeans in the Price Loss Coverage program is too low. PLC triggers payments when the average annual price for a commodity falls below the reference price.
Jennifer James, a Newport, Ark., grower representing USA Rice, said her organization had appealed directly to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack for additional assistance. Prices for rice have remained stable while prices for other commodities, including corn, soybeans, wheat and cotton have soared.
"Rice has been disproportionately affected by steep increases in input costs, and we have not seen a corresponding increase in the price of rice,” James told the committee leaders.
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Rice acreage nationally has dropped to 2.2 million from a previous acreage of about 3 million acres.
“With acres declining so fast, one must question how and for how long the unique infrastructure needed to handle and process rice can survive,” James said.
Mark Morgan, a peach producer in Clarksville, Ark., said specialty crop growers need better options for risk management. He said the Noninsured Crop Disaster Assistance Program is not worth what the program costs in fees for basic coverage and premiums for higher levels.
“The biggest sustainability issue that we have in specialty crops is … not having the risk management tools. When you have two or three bad years in a row, you're done. We just want something a little bit more reliable,” he said.
Reed, the cotton grower, also said that conservation programs also need “robust funding” to provide the assistance that farmers need. Reed said the U.S. Cotton Trust Protocol, a program intended to document that participating farmers are meeting industry sustainability goals, relies on environmental practices that are funded by conservation programs.
The committee leaders also heard concerns about rural development and broadband funding.
Elizabeth Bowles, CEO of Little Rock-based Aristotle Unified Communications, said requirements that projects provide 100 megabits upload and download speeds are skewed toward fiber-based services. USDA’s ReConnect grant and loan program is now restricted to projects that provide those speeds.
“A fiber-first, fiber-only strategy … means that the program will probably run out of money before every rural American has been served. This is a concern that I have, and ... the farm bill does not need to follow down that path," she said.
Sara Wyant contributed to this report.
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