When Congress finally acted on the fiscal cliff, the resulting bill contained some fine print that undid all that hard work to craft a Food and Farm Bill in 2012. Now, there is a need for timely and visionary leadership regarding issues critical to the future of rural America.
The Rocky Mountain Farmers Union has urged Sen. Michael Bennet, who served on the Senate Agriculture Committee, to meet with committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow to propose having the Agriculture Committee begin drafting a new bill. The committee should craft the programs and budget. Funding cannot be determined by budget deficit negotiations.
The Farmers Union has made some specific suggestions regarding 2013 farm and food legislation:
The Farmers Union supports a price support program for when commodity prices drop. The House proposal, with adjustments in the reference price levels versus the target price levels of 2008, is a step in the right direction. The reference price should be tied to increased costs in production on an annual basis. A strong price loss coverage program, associated with appropriate adjustments to commodity prices set in the marketing loan program, would protect producers when market prices drop and provide a useful marketing tool in good production years.
To reduce the bureaucracy facing producers, the Farmers Union supports dropping the agriculture risk or revenue loss coverage proposed in the 2012 House and Senate legislation as long as there is strong price loss coverage and marketing loan programs.
The Senate and House versions of the farm bill have an adjusted gross income limit on crop insurance subsidies. The Farmers Union supports the cap on the total premium subsidy that a producer can receive, but it does not support reducing the premium subsidy level provided to producers per commodity. The House bill provides better supplemental disaster assistance for products not covered by crop insurance.
The Senate’s Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012 continued many of the excellent programs in the 2008 Food and Farm Bill. Programs for renewables, biofuels and biomass, specialty crops and organics promotion and research, farmers market promotion and beginning farmer and rancher development need mandatory funding. Discretionary funding renders these programs useless pieces of political posturing.
The Farmers Union also supports maintaining nutrition programs. We should make every effort to reduce fraud without negatively impacting families in need. We also must remember that as the economy recovers, we will see less demand for these programs.
In debt reduction talks, agriculture should get credit for the $6 billion saved through the rewriting of the Standard Reinsurance Agreement of 2011. If the 2013 Food and Farm Bill targets $24 billion to $25 billion in cuts to the agricultural baseline, then the total agriculture contribution to deficit reduction will be about $30 billion. That is more than agriculture’s fair share, given what percentage of the total federal budget goes to agriculture.
To achieve food and fuel independence, we must treat the Food and Farm Bill as an important piece of legislation that affects everyone. If you eat, you are involved in agriculture.
Mick McAllister is director of communications at the Rocky Mountain Farmers Union.