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New farm bill proposal launched

Agriculture.com Staff 05/08/2006 @ 1:26pm

One week after a group of U.S. senators introduced legislation to extend the current farm bill by at least one year, American Farmland Trust, a Washington-based conservation group, released its own plan for phasing out commodity payments. They would be replaced with a system of green payments and revenue insurance, expanded conservation programs and grants for developing local and global markets.

AFT's president, Ralph Grossi, pointed out that his group's Monday announcement comes 73 years after president Franklin Roosevelt's agriculture secretary, Henry Wallace, described the first farm bill as temporary. His group's recommendations, called Agenda 2007, would "foster a more market-oriented farm policy that will enhance U.S. farmers competitiveness in both the global and local markets," Grossi said.

Grossi was joined by former U.S. agriculture secretaries Clayton Yeutter, who served under President George H.W. Bush, and Dan Glickman, who worked for President Bill Clinton. Agenda 2007 also got an endorsement from Indiana grain and hog farmer John Hardin, past president of the National Pork Producers Council.

AFT proposes shifting some $5 billion in spending that currently goes to direct payments in the 2002 farm law to green payments, which would be based on the environmental practices on farms and ranches. Payments would be shifted under the next farm bill.

Countercyclical payments and loan deficiency payments would be replaced with an insurance program based on revenue rather than price.

Green payments and revenue insurance would be the safety net pillar of AFT's farm program. There would be two other pillars. A stewardship pillar and a new markets pillar.

The stewardship pillar would include cost-share programs similar to today's conservation programs, Grossi said. There would also be programs similar to today's EQIP and CSP (Environmental Quality Incentive Program and Conservation Security Program).

"We propose to double the funding for working lands programs," Grossi said. And the signup process would be simplified.

The new markets pillar would increase funding for export promotion programs and would create a new $1 billion farm profitability grants program run by state departments of agriculture. Those grants could be used to develop "buy local" programs, farmers' markets and other ways of reaching high-end consumer markets.

Former Agriculture Secretary Clayton Yeutter said the AFT proposal should have bipartisan support. Delaying a new farm bill until after the current round of World Trade Organization talks ends "would be a very major tactical error on the part of the United States," said Yeutter, who has also been U.S. Trade Ambassador.

Last week a bipartisan group of U.S. senators, led by Jim Talent (R-MO) and Blanche Lincoln (D-AR) introduced a bill to extend the 2002 Farm Bill until one year after a new WTO agreement is signed. That proposal has already met opposition from European negotiators at the WTO.

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