Senate Ag members ask USDA for farm bill help |

Senate Ag members ask USDA for farm bill help


Members of the Senate Agriculture Committee, who are usually territorial about their right to write the farm bill, today asked Agriculture Department officials for assistance in writing a new bill, particularly on the question of whether the reference prices that trigger farm subsidy payments need to be raised.At a hearing with Agriculture Undersecretary for Farm Production and Conservation Robert Bonnie, Risk Management Agency Administrator Marcia Bunger and Farm Service Agency Administrator Zach Ducheneaux as witnesses, Sen. Tommy Tuberville, R-Ala., was the first to raise the issue of reference prices.
Tuberville noted that his state’s peanut farmers are telling him the Price Loss Coverage and Agricultural Risk Coverage programs triggered by the reference prices written in the 2018 farm bill have ”worked well” but they have not kept up with the cost of inputs, and he asked Bonnie if USDA has reviewed how inflation is addressed over the life of a farm bill.Bonnie appeared a bit surprised at the question and noted that his legislative staff “is always quick to emphasize that Congress writes the farm bill” and that the reference prices are in statute. But he added that he assumed that the reference prices will be “part of the conversation” in the farm bill debate.

Tuberville then asked Ducheneaux whether the Farm Service Agency loan limits need to be raised.Ducheneaux followed Bonnie’s lead and noted that Congress writes the farm bill, but added he would be happy to provide technical assistance on the issue.
Zach Ducheneaux
Zach Ducheneaux
Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., then said that she and Sen. John Boozman, R-Ark., the ranking member on the committee, both ”would love to have further input from you as part of this process.”Boozman had noted in his opening statement, “Crop prices are likely to decline in the coming years, but prices for many of our major commodities would have to drop sharply before the current Title I Price Loss Coverage safety net would start to work.”
“Corn prices, for example, would have to decline by 46 percent before farmers would receive help. By the time corn prices fell that low, significant damage would have already been done.”The need for assistance from USDA, particularly in learning what farmers and ranchers are telling officials about how programs are working kept coming up throughout the hearing.Many senators stressed the importance of crop insurance and the need to expand it for specialty crop producers.“We need to work together to create a farm safety net that is responsive to the needs of all farmers,” Stabenow said in her opening statement. “Crop insurance is the number one risk management tool for producers, but historically it hasn’t been available to some farmers who need it the most.”“I will continue to focus on expanding and strengthening crop insurance for all farmers — including specialty crop growers, organic producers, beginning and diversified farmers. Farmers must have the opportunity to start, sustain, and expand their operations.”
Bunger noted that she and her husband have been row crop producers in South Dakota for many years and have benefited from crop insurance.She said it is ”a passion of mine” to make sure producers including urban farmers, organic farmers and beginning farmers get the same level of crop insurance protection that she and her husband have. The best way to achieve more participation, Bunger added, is to explain the program to farmers who have not participated.Boozman asked Bonnie to pledge that crop insurance will continue to be science-based and not used to give farmers carrots to farm one way or another. Bonnie said that RMA does provide rebates for cover crops but that the rebates do not affect the actuarial soundness of the program.Sens. John Thune, R-S.D., and John Hoeven, R-N.D., said that Phase 2 of the Emergency Relief Program is not working well because it involves the use of farmers’ tax returns, but Bonnie said he believes that is the best way to bring more farmers into the program. Bonnie added that if there is money left over, he is willing to develop a shallow-loss program.Sen. Joni Ernst, R-Iowa, and others said they are concerned about foreign ownership of farm land. Ducheneaux said the current system of recording foreign ownership is paper-based, and that the foreign owners do not have much motivation to file the paper work. Ducheneaux noted that FSA is not a regulatory agency and said that if Congress wants FSA to get more information on foreign ownership it will have to provide the agency the resources to do it.
Bonnie reassured Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn., that he agrees with Agriculture Undersecretary for Trade and Foreign Agricultural Affairs that the stocks to use ratio for sugar should be kept at 13.5 to 15.5%. Bonnie also assured Hoeven that he would enforce the tariff rate quotas on imported sugar.Bonnie also assured Sen. Mike Braun, R-Ind., that USDA is already working on implementing the Growing Climate Solutions Act that he co-authored and that Congress recently passed. The Office of the Chief Economist and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack are both involved in the implementation, Bonnie said.
Sen. Roger Marshall, R-Kan., who was wearing a Kansas City Chiefs shirt ahead of the Super Bowl, said the hearing is the No. 1 farm bill hearing for Kansas.
Marshall said he wanted to point out that crop insurance and the Title I crop subsidies are “so important to everyone in America,” not just to farmers, because they “keep the cost of food down.”

–The Hagstrom Report