AFBF, NFU agree on farm bill; commodity groups provide details
At a Senate agriculture subcommittee hearing on producer perspectives on the farm bill safety net Tuesday, Zippy Duvall, president of the Republican-leaning American Farm Bureau Federation, and Rob Larew, president of the Democratic-leaning National Farmers Union, pretty much agreed on what farmers need out of the next farm bill, but 10 commodity group leaders differed on the details of how basic subsidy programs should be reauthorized.
Both Duvall and Larew told the Senate Agriculture Commodities, Risk Management and Trade Subcommittee that top priorities are to maintain the crop insurance program and to increase funding for the Title 1 Price Loss Coverage and Agriculture Risk Coverage programs.
Duvall said it is so important to keep nutrition programs in the farm bill that it should be renamed the “food and farm bill.”
But while Duvall emphasized how much the cost of crop production has risen in recent years, Larew said it is important to provide a better safety net for specialty crops and broaden income streams for farmers through programs such as the Agriculture Department’s Partnerships for Climate-Smart Commodities. Larew also called for a strong competition title in the bill including a resumption of mandatory country-of-origin labeling for beef.
Answering a question from Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, Larew said that NFU supports the rule that only farmers who are “actively engaged” should be able to get farm subsidies. Duvall agreed, but said it is important to recognize that many farm operations are not structured the same as they were many years ago. Grassley has objected to off-farm relatives being eligible for subsidies, but Duvall said that there are many cases in which cousins are involved in farm operations.
Duvall urged the committee not to put “requirements” on qualifications for crop insurance, and Larew told the subcommittee: “Don’t tie the hands of farmers.”
A second panel featured 10 commodity group representatives who provided detailed suggestions on how to change the Title 1 programs to help their members.
Sen. Tina Smith, D-Minn., subcommittee chairwoman, said that she and her staff have held more than a dozen farm bill listening sessions around Minnesota and learned that “for many producers, the farm safety net is working. It’s definitely helping.
“But I have also heard that there are gaps. Not all risk management and safety-net programs are working well for smaller operations and specialty crop farmers — especially produce farmers. Some programs are hard to use, and a tweak here or there would really help. Farmers of color and indigenous farmers in particular struggle to find a safety net that works for them.”
“Time after time, I hear from producers that the current safety net is inadequate, especially for seed cotton and rice,” Sen. Cindy Hyde-Smith, R-Miss., ranking member on the subcommittee, said. “Statutory reference prices for the Agricultural Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage programs were calculated in the 2014 farm bill using data from 2012 — more than a decade ago,” she added.
Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., ranking member on the full committee, said that, while the individual commodity leaders asked for a variety of changes, they were united in their views that the safety net “must be consistent with the needs of today.”
“We can argue about exactly how we do it,” Boozman said. He also noted there was agreement that qualification for farm programs should not be tied to certain farm practices.
Sen. Cory Booker, D-N.J., noted that the hearing was focused on commodities that get subsidies under Title 1.
“We have a crisis for specialty crop growers,” Booker said, adding that the committee should create a comparable safety net for specialty crops. He noted that nutritionists say Americans should eat more of the fruits and vegetables, the biggest category of specialty crops.
Sen. Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., told the panel, “All of you are calling for additional resources. We would like to do the best we can. If we do not have additional funding in the baseline, we are going to have to focus on our top priorities and need your best thinking.”
Stabenow also said she would like to repeal the debt limit measure from 2011 that has reduced farm program spending by 5.7% each year and is scheduled to continue through 2031.
Two coalitions sent the leaders of the House and Senate Agriculture committees letters urging them not to raise the prices that trigger payments under the ARC and PLC programs, arguing that those changes would only benefit big crop farmers.