Local farmers look to House for 2012 ‘Farm Bill’ passage

A bill that would potentially provide much-needed help to farmers across the country is currently being considered by United States House of Representatives. 

County farmers and those who work closely with local farmers have their opinions on what will happen if the farm bill is delayed or if it passes in the House.

The bill, commonly referred to as “The Farm Bill,” sets national agriculture, nutrition, conservation, and forestry policy. The last Farm Bill was passed in 2008, and expires in 2012.

Supporters say the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012 would end direct payments, streamline and consolidate programs, and reduce the deficit by $23 billion. 

Ronnie Yates, county executive director of Farm Service Agency under USDA, said, “Direct payments, which have been a part of Farm Bill legislation for the past 25 years will become obsolete and will be replaced by other types of farm program support payments that are revenue based and will have a triggering mechanism that is activated by weather-related disaster conditions or commodity market conditions that result in a loss of farm income. The direct payments are a guaranteed payment and they will cease to exist.”

Stanley Wise, Union County Extension Office director, said, “The current elements of the proposed farm bill will have implications for local farmers. Direct payments to farmers that are based on past cropping history for the farm, rather than current planted acres and will be removed from the 2012 farm bill as will counter cyclic payments based on the difference between average market prices and a set target price. These guaranteed payments have helped farmers finance their crop production and have helped assure creditors at least some source of income. This has been a so called safety net which will no longer apply.”

Terry Norwood, regional manager and commodity coordinator for Mississippi Farm Bureau Federation, said, “The Southern farmer isn’t going to be well-covered in this farm bill. Direct payments will be an issue with this bill. This farm bill was more designed as a crop insurance bill. The Southern farmer that farms cotton, rice and peanuts doesn’t have good crop insurance products. The main focus for farmers is that the direct payments are going to disappear. A lot of these payments are based on the crop and what you make.”

One of the proponents in this new bill discusses various conservation efforts.

Yates said, “More money will be earmarked for conservation efforts. Conservation of natural resources is essential to farmers’ livelihoods and critical to his sustainability and profitability over time. Conserving topsoil and water resources, controlling nutrient runoff, and maintaining vegetative filter strips, grass waterways and field borders are all important factors in producing the safest and cheapest food source in the world.”

Wise said, “The new farm bill will promote local grown food, farmers markets and research for speciality crop and organic food production. Conservation programs will also benefit and most likely crop insurance and other safety net programs will be tied to conservation compliance.”

Norwood said, “The farm bill has a lot more stuff in it that has nothing to do with agriculture except for sitting down to eat.”

One of the other issues in this new farm bill concerns farm support payments.

Yates said, “There is much public outcry against farm support payments, when in reality those payments are only a small percentage of the expenditures of USDA. The nutrition assistance program comprises 85-90 percent of the total agriculture program budget outlays while farm payments comprise less than five percent. Some of the criticism is supported by a Congress that increasingly represents a more urban rather than rural constituency and have only limited knowledge of how and why agriculture remains the “backbone” of the American economy.”

Wise said, “According to the USDA FY2013 Budget Summary, 72 percent of the USDA Budget is directed to Nutrition Assistance Programs, 16 percent Farm and Commodity Programs, six percent Conservation and Forestry and six percent other programs. Under both the House and Senate versions of the 2012 Farm Bill, the largest cuts to USDA funding will be within the Nutrition Assistance Programs Area.”

“Even though there aren’t as many active farmers growing agricultural products for a living as there were 20-25 years ago, agriculture remains a viable industry and produces a lot of income and jobs in the county as well as the state. There are fewer young people today that are interested in agriculture because of the hard work and long hours and even those who would like to go into farming face daunting challenges such as the availability of land and high prices for that land, huge initial investments in equipment and annual crop inputs,” Yates said. “Farm bill legislation discussions are being driven by economic conditions, some special interest groups with loud voices and vote hungry politicians whose only intentions are to garner the most votes they can with no regard for what is in the best interest of America both now and long term. Over the past decade, agriculture is one of only a few USA business sectors with a positive trade balance  and I think it is critical that the next farm bill ensures that the American farmer is able to maintain that trend of positive economic returns.”

Wise said, “No one knows for sure what the final compromise will be between the House and Senate, but Union County producers will see less assistance available. Yet there may be opportunities for assistance in diversifying into specialty crops and organic production.”

Wise said, “The 2012 Farm Bill will be complicated, as the United States has a vast diversified agriculture. It remains to be seen just how much the change from the 2008 Farm Bill will affect Union Countyf. A strong agriculture is essential for the United States to continue to have the safest most abundant food supply in the world. It is important for the general population to understand where their food comes from and the challenges farmers face with constantly fluctuating markets, unpredictable weather, and a disease and insect complex. Farming is a demanding and risky occupation and fewer young people are remaining on the farm. Whatever version of the farm bill is passed, I just hope the sustainability of farming and farmers is at the heart of the matter.”

Norwood said, “The final version of the bill will come after the House passes their part of it. Until the House passes it, we don’t know what we will get. The farm bill is so complicated because there are 200 or 300 different titles within the bill. The production part of the bill is halfway. Over half of the farm bill goes to nutrition programs, food stamps, school lunches, etc.”

Yates said, “A lot hinges on the upcoming election. The current farm bill expires Sept. 30. I expect the current farm bill to be extended until at least after the election. We don’t know a lot right now as to what is going to happen.”

 The 2012 farm bill is supposed to come up for a vote in the House of Representatives in September because the House is taking recess for most of August.