Farm Bill may become the ‘Ag Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012’
Posted: May 15, 2012
Young Pennsylvania specialty crop producers joined young growers from other parts of the country recently to visit their legislators in Washington and discuss priorities for the Farm Bill. Valarie Ramsburg, seated third from left, represented Adams County
The Senate Agricultural Committee passed a bipartisan vote of 16-5 for the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012, a possible new Farm Bill.
While the House Ag Committee is holding hearings to prepare another version of a possible Farm Bill, the Senate hopes to have theirs approved on the Senate floor before Memorial Day weekend.
The Senate proposal includes $23 billion in cuts over a 10 year period as compared to the 2008 Farm Bill. The majority of savings will be coming from the consolidation of conservation programs, closing of loopholes in nutrition programs and the elimination of direct payments, with a stronger focus on crop insurance.
The Conservation title would be taking a $6.4 billion cut mainly from its Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) which provides annual payments based on rental value of land and helps with cost assistance for long term approved conservation practices. A variety of programs are being consolidated or combined such as various water initiatives which will become a single regional partnership. In addition, a Sodsaver provision will be implemented to help protect grasslands throughout the States.
Sladjana Prozo, Ag Innovations Program Manager
The Nutrition title would see a cut of $4 billion by closing loopholes and boosting transparency. There would be a limit on the ‘Heat & Eat’ program, used by 14 states, including PA, which coordinates the usage of the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) and the Low Income Household Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP). While SNAP would see a $4 billion cut, programs such as The Emergency Food Assistance Program (TEFAP) would increase by $150 million.
The direct payments previously offered to farmers would be replaced by a “shallow loss” program to protect from low prices or poor yields. Previously offered direct payments allowed farmers to increase farm income or land value based on historical production without the requirement of current production. This $5 billion in savings would begin to focus policy more on risk management over government payments.
Dean of Agriculture and Environmental Sciences at DelVal College and Former Secretary of Agriculture, Russell Redding sees risk management as “a national priority; it lifts it from being simply a title in the Farm Bill to a cornerstone of our agricultural policies. That forces the USDA to make the crop insurance system work for every producer.” The option of crop insurance aims to improve our protection system. Whereas direct payments had no risk for producers and high risk for the government, crop insurance is a cooperation to mitigate risks between producers and government.
Producers have hard choices to make to offset their high production costs associated with running a farm. With high uncertainties throughout a growing season, most producers rely on crop yield and/or revenue insurance, diversification, financial leverage (debt) and off-farm employment to protect their investments. In emergency cases, producers can turn to government disaster payments for severe disease, weather or other natural mischance losses.
With over a thousand farms, according to the 2007 Census of Agriculture conducted by the USDA, the average Adams County farm has a net cash farm income of $19,134 annually. Overall in PA, the average net cash income per farm is slightly lower at $18,565.
Although farm sales reach well over $100,000, it is the large production expenses that make farming a high risk and high labor undertaking. The Farm Bill has been changing over the past decade to aid these producers through well planned risk management. Russell Redding trusts that this risk management “really helps to ensure that there will be a payday for their investment.”
The Farm Bill has not only changed towards risk management, but also in support of specialty crops rather than just commodities. This shift is in part due to the changes with the American consumer. With more drives to understand and localize our food, agriculture is becoming more important in the average citizens life.
As Dean at DelVal, Russell Redding is seeing the “resurgence of people wanting to know where their food comes from. With all of that, you have new opportunities around energy and markets; take any aspect of the Farm Bill– it’s a great place to be.” That’s why this new Farm Bill is being dubbed the “Food, Farm and Job Bill.”
As the Farm Bill continues to evolve, so are our farms to the next generation. The average age of a principal operator for an Adams County farm is 55. While many farms are family operations, there are a lot of people looking to transition to an agricultural work and lifestyle. The succession of farms to the next generation of growers is an important step for the future of agriculture. Russell Redding believes that this is an aspect the Farm Bill is missing, “I think there’s a real need to have a national conversation and the Farm Bill is a great place to do it; the transition of farms from one generation to the next, how do we deal with the legacy of our farms?”
Mr. Redding also commented on other aspects of the Farm Bill he’d like to see strengthened such as the “continued erosion of research; research dollars available to help are not a match to what public expectations are,” as well as the “momentum lost on the Conservation title- this Senate version doesn’t have the same amount of support. Part is funding, but part is that the focus has drifted to be commodity focused rather than preservation.”
Whereas the Senate already has their version of the new Farm Bill on the floor, the House Ag Committee is currently holding public hearings for stakeholders’ input. The House Ag Committee has begun a comment section online for interested citizens to take part in the Farm Bill debate.
As former Secretary of Ag, Russell Redding understands the impact that residents have and how driven policies lead to political changes. As he sees it “this is an extraordinary time to be in agriculture and be considering agriculture as a career. We know the political landscape will change, population will grow, additional trade agreements [will be made], there is a growing need for protection of environment, energy resources and all those are parts of this bill.”
Any interests and comments for the 2012 Farm Bill may be made to respective Senate and House committees.
Robert Casey Jr. serves for Pennsylvania on the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee, contact him in Harrisburg toll free at 866-461-9159 or send a direct message online .
The House Ag committee has two PA representatives, Glenn Thompson (202) 225-5121 and Tim Holden (202) 225-5546, who can be reached at their offices. Comments to the House from the public may be made until May 20th.