WASHINGTON, July 25, 2012 -The record-breaking drought sweeping most of the nation’s agricultural land should serve as a spur for Congress to pass a farm bill before the current bill’s expiration on Sept. 30, said Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.
The secretary said passage now is particularly important for livestock producers, because the livestock disaster program benefits under the 2008 farm bill expired last September. The 2012 farm bill drafts passed through the Senate and the House Committee on Agriculture contain revivals of the livestock, but not crop, disaster aid.
“So it becomes very important for Congress to get its work done and the House of Representatives to get this voted on, so whatever differences between the bills can get worked out during conference,” Vilsack said.
While disaster aid programs for livestock producers are in limbo right now, the secretary also emphasized that supplemental programs are necessary for crop insurance. Noting that the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Program (SURE) “was pretty awkward in terms of implementation,” he said the concept of the program revolved around moving away from ad hoc disaster programs, which often became expensive. Crop insurance “only goes so far,” he said.
“You might insure 70-80%, but there’s still the huge input costs that are now involved in putting a crop in the ground,” he said, citing the rising costs of cash rents, fertilizer, energy and seed technology. “You’ve got a serious amount of money in that crop and then you have a situation like today or you have a situation where somebody does something globally that impacts the market negatively and you’re stuck.”
“I think it is appropriate for us to have, as a part of the safety net, some kind of enhancement or supplement that provides protection for when your revenues drop,” Vilsack said, which he said is being attempted in the next farm bill through an alternative “that’s easier to understand and simpler to implement than the SURE program.”
The taxpayers should be willing to provide this system for the nation’s producers, because they give us the privilege of a food secure nation, Vilsack said.
“We’re dependent on others for our energy, but not dependent on others for our food,” he explained. “We spend about 10% of our pay on food and that’s significantly less than most developed countries.
“They’re providing you food security, which is a national security advantage, and they’re giving you flexibility with your paycheck,” he added. However, whatever new programs Congress is developing will have to make it to a conference before the current farm bill expires on Sept. 30.
One significant area of disagreement between the chambers is the Nutrition Title. Vilsack claimed the House Agriculture Committee’s $30 billion or so in cuts to SNAP would not only reduce food welfare, but farm income.
“Fourteen cents of every one of those SNAP dollars goes into a farm pocket,” he said. “In the circumstance of the drought situation, now is not the time to do that. The SNAP program is part of that safety net.” However, he noted that Senate leaders, including Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., indicate they will not accept the House’s SNAP reductions.
“In order to pass this you have to get it through a Senate that has spoken specifically on this issue,” Vilsack said. “I really see no way in which the depth of cuts the House called for will be in the final product.”
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