Panel: Farm bill makes small improvements to programs |

Panel: Farm bill makes small improvements to programs

A panel of farm bill experts today said that the new farm bill will make improvements to existing farm programs rather than start new programs, and therefore may be relatively quick to implement.

“This farm bill developed and built on the previous farm bill,” noted Barry Flinchbaugh, a professor emeritus at Kansas State University.

“This evolutionary process has developed a foundation on which to build future farm policy, a contract between farmers and their government, a management program which provides certainty, stability, a safety net under which farm income can improve and which a long term farm bill process and framework can develop.”

Flinchbaugh noted that the evolution of policy also applied to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, which he described as “the glue” that holds the framework of the farm bill together.

“We forget that these nutrition programs affect every (congressional) district,” Flinchbaugh said.

“The provisions that will allow farmers to choose between the Price Loss Coverage program and the Agricultural Risk Coverage program for two years and then each year means that farmers “no longer have to make a Vegas-like five year decision.”

The provision to use Risk Management Agency data on yields should create consistency across county lines while separate yields on irrigated and non-irrigated lines should also make yields more accurate, he said.

Conservation programs, Flinchbaugh said, depend on whether USDA implements the Conservation Security Program in the way Congress intended or whether it follows “the political implications of the House version that attempted to kill CSP.”

Tara Smith, a crop insurance specialist at Michael Torrey & Associates, said the congressional committees listened to farmers and did not make major changes to crop insurance programs that are working.

The idea that the bill is evolutionary “really rings true for crop insurance,” Smith said. The 2018 bill, she said, built on changes that were made in 2014, including the inclusion of whole farm insurance and conservation compliance.

The 2018 bill put into statute practices that were already in place and made hemp eligible for crop insurance, she noted.

Some provisions will not need to go through the rulemaking process because they are only making small changes to existing programs, Smith said. Changes can be made through manager’s bulletins, she explained.

The changes in the Margin Protection Program for dairy that turn it into the Dairy Margin Coverage program “are marginal,” said Alan Bjerga, senior vice president for communications at the National Milk Producers Federation.

“We believe dairy fared best in the farm bill and it needed to,” he said, explaining that the dairy program in the 2014 farm bill had not provided enough benefits to farmers to make it worthwhile.

The new program is more affordable and offers more comprehensive coverage for small producers and more meaningful coverage for larger producers, Bjerga said.

Bjerga concluded that he was pleased to hear Agriculture Deputy Secretary Steve Censky say that USDA is making the dairy program the No. 1 priority for implementation and that benefits will be retroactive to Jan. 1.