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Farm Bureau opposes insurance caps

Any doubts that crop insurance tops the list of farm policy goals for farmers were dashed by Farm Bureau delegates at the group's annual meeting in Nashville Tuesday. The group made it clear they don't want limits on premium subsidies and spent time debating several other amendments on improving the way insurance works for producers.

The group passed an amendment to its insurance policy that opposes "caps or limits on crop insurance premium assistance to producers" offered by Texas delegate Rickey Yantis.

"As you know in previous discussions of the farm bill, there's been discussed a $40,000 cap. We feel that would be very detrimental for agriculture," Yantis said.

And just to make sure their point is clear, delegates passed another amendment opposing "means testing and payment limitations" for crop insurance.

Last year the Senate did approve an amendment to its farm bill offered by Senators Tom Coburn (R-OK) and Dick Durbin (D-IL) that lowers premium subsidies to farmers with more than $750,000 in income.  The farm bill approved by the House Agriculture Committee didn't have that language. And, ultimately, that bill didn't pass Congress anyway. As Congress gets ready to try again to pass a new farm law, opposition to limits on what is now the most expensive single program for farmers is coming into focus.

Delegates to the nation's largest farm organization also proposed other tweaks to the way crop insurance works.

Carl Shaffer of Pennsylvania convinced fellow delegates to back a proposal "allowing prevented planting claims to be approved on an individual farm/producer basis, rather than the current provision which requires acreage with similar characteristics in the surrounding area to have also been prevented from planting due to insured cause of loss."

"Because of varying topography, a lot of times that's not possible," Shaffer said.

The group also voted for new language that its policy committee recommended. The committee calls for a new revenue insurance program for peanuts. An amendment from the Arkansas delegation added rice to that suggestion.

Rice growers don't have a good risk management tool, "like our fellow peanut farmers," said Rich Hillman of Arkansas.

While the discussion of crop insurance was long, the debate over farm bill commodity programs was relatively brief.

Last year Farm Bureau proposed a government-supported catastrophic risk, or deep loss program, that would allow crop insurance companies to sell add-on policies above a basic level of coverage. That proposal wasn't adopted. So the policy committee recommended a change to the group's farm policy:

"If a catastrophic risk program is not achievable we support producers being allowed a choice to select between a shallow loss revenue program or a reference price program."

By a fairly narrow vote of 179 to 153, the delegates voted to make that language more vague, to give flexibility to the group's board of directors. The group voted for a proposal from Illinois to say that if Farm Bureau can't get a catastrophic risk program into the farm bill, "we support producers being allowed a choice of program options."

Southerners wanted to keep language favoring a "reference price program," which would be similar to the current target price program.

"It is one of the few things in the farm bill that would work for rice and other southern crops," said a delegate from Louisiana.

The group didn't debate changes to the recommendations of the policy committee on renewable fuels. The committee added new language saying that Farm Bureau supports the "Renewable Fuels Standard 2 (RFS2) as passed in the Energy Independence and Security Act of 2007."

Delegates passed a renewable fuels policy with that statement, even though the RFS is not popular with many livestock producers who see it as a factor in higher feed costs.

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