Perdue unveils USDA’s ‘principles’ for farm bill |

Perdue unveils USDA’s ‘principles’ for farm bill

MIFFLINTOWN, Pa. — In the middle of a morning-to-night tour of central Pennsylvania farm country Wednesday, Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue ran through an outline of "legislative principles" USDA will share with Congress in the writing of the next farm bill.

The meeting was held at Rainford Farms, a 1,300-acre family dairy and anaerobic digester operation that produces all its own electricity.

Perdue reminded the audience of Pennsylvania Farm Bureau members and local FFA students that the USDA doesn't write the farm bill, but advises legislators on it.

"They depend on USDA for consultation and data," Perdue said, noting that the visit to Pennsylvania was part of an effort to "get out on the ground" and "hear what's working and what's not" from farmers and producers.

Topics raised by the audience in a town-hall-style meeting ranged from veterans in agriculture, the immigrant workforce and trade to broadband access and conservation.

The question of potential changes to the crop insurance program was raised both at the beginning and end of the meeting.

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During his introduction of the secretary, Pennsylvania Farm Bureau President Rick Ebert mentioned how important the farm bill is to the agricultural community.

A dairy farmer from Blairsville, Pa., who also grows alfalfa, corn and soybeans, Ebert made a point of mentioning that he had bought crop insurance this year after two very rainy springs had adversely affected planting.

The new farm bill, he said, should maintain risk management tools for farmers, and maybe expand on them.

Ebert quoted American Farm Bureau Federation President Zippy Duvall in saying people should call the farm bill a "food security program" instead of a "farm safety net."

The last farmer to speak from the audience brought up crop insurance again, telling Perdue, "Please don't mess it up in the next farm bill."

The farmer said he had seen the program progress over the years, but that in the last farm bill "they took something out."

"Please continue to look out for the guys who depend on it," he told Perdue.

Perdue responded by noting the need for balance in the program, so that good producers are supported and continue to do well while the government finds ways to "eliminate fraud" and to make sure people are profiting from what they produce, and not what they can harvest from crop insurance.

In his remarks on USDA's farm bill principles, Perdue acknowledged that the dairy and cotton sectors "didn't fare as well" in the last bill, and that these concerns need to be addressed.

He also said that the purpose of a safety net is to "let them do it again," and that it "can't replace" sound farming practices.

Of changes to the bill, Perdue said, "We look to it as being more evolutionary than revolutionary," but "farmers should be responsible for their own safety net through crop insurance," rather than through subsidy programs.

"Farmers should look at the market and let the market tell them" what they ought to be producing, he said, rather than having production driven by government regulation.

Throughout his remarks, Perdue mentioned his morning visit to the College of Agricultural Science at Pennsylvania State University, referring to it with a smile as "this little land-grant college."

"It's exciting there," he said, to see that the ag school hasn't been moved out of town, and that a 1-acre USDA Agricultural Research Service facility thrives in the middle of campus, studying pasture and watershed systems.

"I'm proud that Penn State still recognizes the value of ag sciences," he said, and has applied research programs connecting food, health and nutrition.

"The productivity of the American producer is just phenomenal," Perdue said, noting that farmers have been under a lot of duress the last four to five years.

"But thankfully, farmers don't make just pure economic decisions," he said. "Farmers farm with their heart rather than their checkbook."

After the Mifflintown stop, Perdue traveled south to Harrisburg to visit the Central Pennsylvania Food Bank and held a roundtable discussion on nutrition assistance. He then continued south to Gettysburg for a town hall meeting at AgCom Inc., a feed and fertilizer company, and then visited the Adams County Farm Service Agency Service Center.

–The Hagstrom Report