WASHINGTON, March 30, 2016 - Tough times on the farm are generating new concerns about the current farm safety net and some Southern farmers are calling for farm bill changes. Yet, any substantial modifications may have to wait until 2019.

“One of the provisions that's usually been there is we've had a good safety net that would help protect us when low prices are around, and now we don't have that with this present farm bill,” said Arkansas Farm Bureau President Randy Veach during an “Ag Summit” sponsored by his organization. But even Veach acknowledged that any changes made now would have to be made by USDA rather than Congress.

The Summit is a reversal of Arkansas Farm Bureau's usual practice of sending its county officers to Washington every other year. This time, Veach said, it would have been too difficult to schedule meetings with all of the state's lawmakers in Washington and with federal agency officials, so they instead invited them to speak in Little Rock during the congressional recess.

And during the March 28-30 conference, he said, the farm group plans to talk to its congressional delegation about how to tweak future farm bills “that would give some support.”

Veach has something specific in mind — a combination of the two farm bill commodity support programs. Agriculture Risk Coverage provides support payments based on a farmer's receipts; Price Loss Coverage pays when commodities fall below a reference price.  

“We need to go with a revenue type risk management product, and one that has a price built in that would help strengthen that safety net that we need,” says Veach.

One of his board members, Rusty Smith, who farms near Des Arc, Arkansas, agrees that opening up the current farm bill would not be a good idea.  “Everybody is wanting to cut money, and we have no room to cut in ag now,” he told Agri-Pulse.  Still, he said, “Eastern Arkansas is in a depressed situation,” and crop insurance doesn't cover Arkansas producers as well as it does those in the Midwest.”

Congressman Rick Crawford, a Republican who represents the state’s 1st District, said if anything, farm programs will face more cuts.  “(House Ag Chairman) Mike Conaway has been a big advocate of keeping the farm bill closed,” Crawford told the Summit. “We're not going to have that luxury this time around,” he said, with the House Budget Committee directing Agriculture to cut farm programs by $10 billion over 10 years. Still, he predicted the Washington debate will culminate in a continuing resolution that may maintain current spending levels.

American Farm Bureau Federation President Vincent “Zippy” Duvall, said he doesn't think the changes Veach envisions will be made in the current farm bill. “2019 will be the next year we write a new Farm Bill,” he told Agri-Pulse. “We are not too early to go ahead and have those conversations on what the next farm bill will look like.” 

In the meantime, he said, “It's going to be up to that farmer to hang in there and tighten up his belt and do the best job he can. I know everybody's tired of hearing that, but we all have been through this cycle before, except for the young people."

Updated at 8:35 pm.



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