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Farm Bureau gets ready for farm bill

DANIEL LOOKER Updated: 01/11/2012 @ 6:54pm Business Editor

After hours of debate at its annual meeting in Honolulu, Hawaii, this week, it appears that Farm Bureau will continue to press for some form of protection against catastrophic revenue losses as Congress returns to debating a new farm bill this winter.

Delegates to the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual meeting in Honolulu dropped the proposal’s name (Systemic Risk Reduction Program) but kept the same basic concept. The idea is to protect farmers against catastrophic revenue losses up to perhaps 70% or 80% (or less, some say, depending on available funding). Growers could then buy up crop insurance at higher levels and at a lower premium rate, the group’s economist, John Anderson, explained over the weekend,  before delegates plunged into policy.

As Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman said in his Sunday speech to members, “Agricultural programs are intended to help farmers deal with big challenges they cannot handle alone, as opposed to providing guarantees against small reductions in annual revenue.”

Stallman also asked his members to give Farm Bureau leaders and lobbyists clear direction. After the debate over the next farm bill, he seemed pleased with the outcome.

“I think we’re well positioned to continue to move forward,” Stallman said.

Farm Bureau members did not support direct payments or establishing a patchwork of different programs for different commodities.

That patchwork approach was taken by the congressional ag committees last fall when they put together a farm bill framework for the failed deficit-cutting Super Committee.

Says Farm Bureau’s Mace Thornton, “Our delegates voted to support a mix of provisions including a catastrophic revenue protection program, wrap-around crop insurance, and marketing loans with rates that more accurately reflect market levels."

“We believe this will give farmers the flexibility to make production and risk-management decisions based on what is best for their individual farms and to take their planting signals from the marketplace rather than the government farm program,” he adds.

Thornton and Stallman point out that Farm Bureau’s policy position is flexible and can be scalable to the amount of money available from the government. It can also be made available to a wider range of farmers, possibly including fruit and vegetable growers.

“We believe it is a fiscally responsible farm policy alternative,” Thornton tells Agriculture.com.

Stallman also says he’s not certain that a gridlocked partisan Congress will be able to write a farm bill in this election year. But Farm Bureau will push for that.

Delaying a farm bill until 2013 is possible. But as Farm Bureau lobbyist Mary Kay Thatcher told members in Hawaii, “There is no upside to that. There will be even more budget cuts if that happens. There’s every reason to push it through this year if we can.”

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