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Farm groups stick to policy

Groups representing corn and soybean farmers closed out the Commodity Classic in Nashville, Saturday with no major changes in their wish list for commodity programs in the next farm bill. Both have their own versions of “shallow loss” payments that would cover some of the shortfall from crop insurance.
 
And, they’re circling the wagons against major cuts to crop insurance.
 
“Crop insurance is our highest priority,” National Corn Growers president Gary Niemeyer, an Auburn, Illinois farmer, told Agriculture.com.
 
“We want to pass a farm bill, and I would make that your first and last paragraph, and maybe the middle, too,” he said.
 
American Soybean Association president Steve Wellman, who farms near Syracuse, Nebraska, heads a group with similar goals.
 
He’s glad to see that Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow (D-MI) has moved two farm bill hearings a week earlier on the calendar.
 
“Hopefully that’s a good indication they’re going to move as fast as they can to move legislation forward in 2012,” he said.
 
Officially, the ASA policy on a commodity program for a farm bill passed this year remains the same as one adopted last fall the group’s board and its farm bill task force.
 
“ASA developed and supports risk management concepts for the 2012 Farm Bill as a means to partially offset revenue losses that exceed a specified threshold, while complementing crop insurance,” says a resolution the group passed without debate Saturday. “Payments under a revenue-based program should be commodity-specific, and based on the difference between historical and current-year revenue at the farm level.”
 
NCGA’s ideal farm bill program is a similar shallow-loss revenue program, but based at the crop reporting district level. The concept was largely incorporated into a bipartisan farm bill proposal introduced in the Senate last fall called the Aggregate Risk and Revenue Management (ARRM) program.
 
According to Niemeyer and NCGA’s CEO, Rick Tolman, the group is willing to give up direct payments and counter-cyclical payments in the current farm bill in exchange for adopting ARRM, and it would save $20 billion in federal spending over 10 years, according to the Congressional Budget Office.
 
“We own it,” Anthony Bush, head of the Corn Growers’ Public Policy Action team said proudly as he reported on his group’s work to delegates Saturday.
 
“Farm policy is a moving target right now,” he told the group. “Will we get exactly what we want? Probably not.”
 
Commodity Groups will be under pressure to reach consensus soon. The Senate Ag Committee holds a hearing on the next farm bill’s Commodity Title on March 14 and the committee is expected to write a farm bill soon.
 
But they’re unlikely to reach agreement with conservation groups that want crop insurance tied to the conservation compliance rules that now apply to farm program payments.
 
The Corn Growers voted Saturday to back continued conservation compliance for farm program payments, but they and ASA members voted to oppose linking conservation compliance to crop insurance.
 
ASA has a few other ideas for crop insurance, too. Members voted in favor of allowing premiums to be paid up to September 30, instead of an earlier date adopted for this year. And ASA would like at least one person with a financial stake in soybean production to be on the Federal Crop Insurance advisory board, Wellman said.
 
ASA also wants American farmers to get credit for producing soybeans sustainably if they follow U.S. conservation practices and environmental and labor laws. Wellman said the group believes the European Union’s renewable energy directive, which has its own sustainability rules, has contributed to a 41% drop in U.S. soybean exports to the EU over the past two years.
 
The directive has greenhouse gas emission standards that ASA believes U.S. soybeans already meet as a feedstock for advanced biofuel in this country. And the directive requires farm-level audits of soybeans used for biodiesel production in Europe. The EU is still importing U.S. beans for meal fed to livestock, but ASA believes soybean oil is being resold to Africa and other markets because it isn’t being used for biodiesel production in the EU.
 
Both groups wrestled with a host of environmental and trade issues Saturday, but their top priority remains getting a farm bill passed.
 
Congress has less than 100 work days left this year, making it difficult to get a farm bill finished, said Rob Joslin of Sidney, Ohio, a past ASA president who heads the group’s farm bill task force.
 
“The continuity of a farm bill is needed for our business,” Joslin told Agriculture.com after the ASA delegates concluded their meeting.
 
“Your readers need to put pressure on their elected officials,” he said. “I think it’s appropriate for them to expect them [members of Congress] to bring forward necessary legislation in a timely manner.”
 
 
 
 
 
 

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