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Groups unite for crop insurance

What do President Barack Obama and House Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan have in common?

Maybe very little, but together they’re helping to united the four commodity organizations meeting in Nashville this week at the Commodity Classic.

Almost a year ago Ryan, a Republican budget hawk from Wisconsin, proposed trimming subsidies for crop insurance in his annual budget. And last month, the President’s own budget proposal for the 2013 federal fiscal year floated about $8 billion in cuts over 10 years to crop insurance subsidies, including farmer premiums.

After leaders of groups representing corn, grain sorghum, soybeans and wheat met Thursday afternoon, they released a statement saying that “our organizations agree that an affordable crop insurance program is our No. 1 priority.” And, as a broader coalition of farm groups announced recently, those at the Commodity Classic are urging Congress to pass a farm bill this year.

The four groups say they represent more than 70% of all crop acres in the U.S.

Earlier Thursday, when leaders of the National Corn Growers Association talked to reporters about Congress’s work on the next farm bill, the group’s chairman, North Dakota farmer Bart Schott, said, “We do not want to have them cut crop insurance at all.”

And NCGA president Garry Niemeyer of Auburn, Illinois, said he was pleased with changes offered by USDA’s Risk Management Agency for producers in most Corn Belt counties to update their yield history for crop insurance this year.

“On my own farm, I can tell you it has worked brilliantly,” Niemeyer said. In his county RMA allowed a 1.95 bushel-an-acre increase to last year’s APH (Actual Production History).

The groups have other hot button issues.

For corn growers, it’s continuing the 2007 energy bill’s requirement that the nation’s fuel industry use biofuels, which is laid out in a timetable through 2022 called the renewable fuel standard.

“I’m going to say right up front, we are going to defend the renewable fuel standard at all costs,” Niemeyer said. Corn farmers have been willing to take a hits, including the likely end of direct payments in the next farm bill and the end of tax credits and tariffs that have supported the ethanol industry until Congress allowed them to expire at the end of 2011.

The American Soybean Association also backs the RFS, which is critical to a younger biofuel industry. The RFS will mandate the use of 1 billion gallons of biodiesel this year and the EPA has proposed a 1.28 billion gallon mandate for 2013 but the White House hasn’t yet given final approval.

Steve Wellman, a Syracuse, Nebraska farmer who is ASA president, told that his group is urging farmers to call their members of Congress to ask them to urge President Obama to approve the higher RFS for biodiesel next year.

A tax credit for biodiesel has also expired. When asked what the path might be to getting that renewed in Congress, Wellman said “It won’t be an easy path.”

An amendment to a surface transportation bill that is stalled in the House would have extended the biodiesel tax credit for two more years.

“We’re looking at any legislation that can move that forward,” Wellman said.

Both NCGA and ASA also support funding improving locks and dams on the Mississippi River. The 2007 Water Resources Development Act authorized starting that work. But Congress hasn’t approved any funding for it.

The law passed with 406 votes in the House and 83 in the Senate, NCGA president Niemeyer said. Today, that public works project isn’t getting much attention.

“Right now, with no money, nobody wants to talk to us,” Niemeyer says of his group’s efforts to convince members of Congress to fund the river improvements.

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