Farmers in Ohio expressed strong support for crop insurance during a listening session with members of the House Agriculture Committee on Monday, but some producers wanted the policies to be means-tested or more focused on encouraging climate-smart practices.

Bill Myers, a farmer in northeast Ohio, urged Reps. Cheri Bustos, D-Ill., and Marcy Kaptur, D-Ohio, not to reduce premium subsidies, noting that farmers were dealing with increased input costs and rising interest rates.

He said the disaster programs that predated the current crop insurance system failed to provide aid when farmers needed it most.

"I would suggest you look really strongly at not lowering the amount of the subsidy because it’s going to be tough on ag at this time with rising inputs, fuel, everything else that's happened to us,” he said.

He added, ”Let's be proactive and make sure that we don't create a problem or pull the rug out from the producer at the time we can't afford it.”

Ohio Farmers Union President Joe Logan told the lawmakers the program needed to be reformed to address climate change.

“I think we probably need to reconfigure crop insurance in a way that rewards farmers for building soil health," Logan said. "That is a way that we can both improve the overall resilience of agriculture and also save money on the crop insurance payments."

He didn’t elaborate on that idea; the witnesses were only allowed to address the lawmakers for a couple of minutes.

Eli Dean, an organic grower whose family has a 750-acre operation near Sandusky, said the crop insurance program ensures that producers are compensated quickly after a disaster, but he suggested reducing the amount of benefits going to very large operations.

Congress should “put some limits, caps, in place so that the largest farms in the country don't keep getting larger, while the smallest and the barely midsize ones like ours can't compete,” Dean said.

But Paul Herringshaw, a member of the Ohio Corn and Wheat Growers Association, said a top priority for Ohio farmers is protecting the current insurance system, which he said had been attacked from both the left and the right. He said lawmakers should look at ways to enhance the program “both in terms of effectiveness and cost.”

Herringshaw, who farms near Bowling Green, also called for raising the reference price for wheat, saying the current price “is not aligned with the current cost of production.”

According to a recent analysis by economists at The Ohio State University and University off Illinois, the 2022 cost of producing wheat far exceeds the projected reference prices in the Price Loss Coverage and Agriculture Risk Coverage programs because market increases for wheat lagged well behind price rises for corn and soybeans. The 2024 PLC reference is estimated to remain at $5.50, the statutory minimum, while the ARC price is estimated at $5.39 a bushel.

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Some producers also pressed the lawmakers to consider the needs of farmers who raise fruits, vegetables and other specialty crops.

Kristy Buskirk, who grows organic produce and cut flowers near Tiffin, said local facilities for flash freezing were needed to make it easier to market food locally.

“We want increased investments in local and regional food systems,” she said.

Vegetable grower Bob Jones of Huron, Ohio, noted that specialty crops receive a relatively small percentage of the funding in the farm bill that’s directed toward agriculture; the vast majority of funding goes toward the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, and farm commodity spending is largely directed toward row crops and dairy producers.

”We get the tick on the tail at the end of the dog,” Jones said of specialty crop growers.

The sugar program also got some attention. Kirk Vashaw, CEO of Spangler Candy Co. in Bryan, Ohio, which makes a number of popular candies and is the only manufacturer of candy canes in the United States, appealed to the lawmakers to overhaul the sugar program to lower the price of the commodity.

Vashaw said the company has 40 jobs in Ohio and would like to bring back 200 more that are located at a manufacturing plant in Mexico. To do that, the company need ssts be able to buy sugar in the United States at free-market prices, he said.

The USDA supports domestic sugar prices by regulating sugar imports.

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