Gongwer News Service
Aug. 2, 2012
By Rachel Buccione
U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown on Wednesday highlighted the need for a long-term farm bill in light of draught conditions in Ohio and around the country.
The Democrat pushed for enactment of the Senate’s version of the five-year farm bill that would eliminate direct payments and overhaul the crop insurance program.
The House has passed its own version that provides only a one-year extension for the legislation that is set to expire Sept. 30.
“The five-year farm bill – unlike the sort of, I think, fairly pathetic actions in the House so far with a short-term extension – a five-year farm bill provides farmers with long-term certainty,” he said during a conference call with reporters.
The Senate version passed in June had bipartisan support, as well as backing from farm groups in Ohio and around the country, Mr. Brown said. It would save $23 million over 10 years through the elimination of direct payments to farmers, which would be replaced by a market-based system that relies on current crop-year data, market prices, and actual yields instead of paying farmers for crops they do not grow, he said.
“The bill’s getting rid of direct payments, strengthening the safety net, enhancing crop insurance and streamlining conservation programs will absolutely be good for agriculture as you can see from the support for this bill,” he said.
Dry conditions have jeopardized farmers’ production this year with the U.S. Department of Agriculture Economic Research Service saying it is the “most severe, extensive” draught in Ohio in 25 years, the senator said.
“I remember hearing particularly corn farmers, some soybean farmers say they expected this huge crop this year because the timing of planting and the moistness of the ground were all perfect conditions, and then it quit raining,” Sen. Brown said. “This year’s weather, while it’s been extreme, farmers face the prospect obviously every year of bad weather.”
Champaign County corn and soybean farmer Alex Ward said the conditions are the worst draught the county has seen since 1988.
“Crop insurance is the tool that we need the most, going to our lenders, going to our buyers that we’re buying stuff from, saying hey, this is what we can do,” he said. “Crop insurance is the best safety net out there.”
Mr. Ward said he would not miss direct payments if Congress does away with the program. “Because of the increase in crop prices and the improved genetics in the crops that we are planting and using, it came a long ways, and it’s just something that’s not necessary in my eyes.”
State Climatologist Jeff Rogers said Ohio’s five northernmost climate divisions are in “extreme draught” while two segments are considered “severe” and the last three in “moderate draught.”
“There’s certainly no indication anywhere of a clear sign of a statistical probability of above-normal rain anywhere in the next few months,” he said. “For the most part, I think the odds of it continuing into next spring are probably reasonably good.”
He said, however, historically draughts that hang on into the second year rapidly resolve early in the growing season.
“One in seven Ohio jobs is connected to growing or processing or distributing food we eat,” Sen. Brown said. “More than $107 billion dollars of agriculture and food contribute to our economy, so it’s a very, very essential part of the state, part of the state’s economy.”
Ohio Support: The Ohio Farm Bureau Federation and the Ohio Corn and Wheat Growers Association said they support a five-year extension of the bill.
OCWGA Director of Government & Industry Affairs Jack Irvin said the upper chamber’s bill is a more balanced approach and more market-oriented than the House’s version.
“Overall the bill does a great job of protecting crop insurance program, which is important in years like this,” he said in a Wednesday interview. “They have a new program to help with multiple-year losses, or multiple-year struggles called the ARC program … and we are supportive of that program.
“I think the farm bill’s mistitled and should be a ‘food bill.’ It literally affects every person in America and it’s an important piece to have in place to maintain the cheapest and most abundant food supply in the world.”
Yvonne Lesicko, senior director of legislative and regulatory policy for the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation, said the House and Senate need to come together and work out a compromise.
“So what the Farm Bureau wants to see is a five-year farm bill. That’s absolutely critical to us. It’s critical to our farmers,” she said. “We need the security of knowing what the programs are going to look like. We need consistency in knowing what is out there and available to our farmers. They make plans for the future and they can’t be in a place where they’re unaware of what is going to be out there and available to them as government programs.”
Ms. Lesicko said the Farm Bureau is not opposed to a short-term extension if a stalemate blocks a longer-term solution.
“We’ll take a one-year farm bill by all means, but we need and want a five-year farm bill,” she said. “There are a lot of different reasons for that. One is because we’re still not quite sure what a one-year farm bill is going to look like. The other is the issue that at the end of this year there’s going to be some serious slashes across everything … because of the deficit.
Mr. Irvin said OCWGA was one of the first organizations to suggest eliminating direct payments.
“We are very supportive of moving away from a program that’s there for every year and shift those resources to something that’s there when they’re having losses, like this year, and difficulties on the farm and have a more long-term safety net instead of an annual program,” he said.
The draught has only served to highlight the unpredictability and challenges of agriculture, Mr. Irvin said.
“We’ve been fortunate to have some pretty good years here recently, and I think in general, a lot of people just take that for granted that everything will always just keep going up and everything will be positive,” he said. “Well, obviously this year that’s not the case. Everything from Mother Nature to trade to government policies can have immediate and negative impacts on agriculture, and unfortunately we’re seeing that first-hand this year.”
Ms. Lesicko said the conservation programs in the bill are critical in terms of the drought “because some of the lands that were in those conservation programs are being able to be brought out and be used for grazing for livestock.”
Crop insurance, meanwhile, is “one of the most critical programs” to farmers in Ohio, she said, adding that 70% of applicable farmers participate.
Food Stamps: Sen. Brown’s vote to pass the farm bill was not joined by colleague U.S. Sen. Rob Portman(R-Terrace Park). The Republican has said he could not support the legislation because it makes no reforms to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program that makes up the majority of the bill’s price tag and has grown in cost in recent years.
“We all want to address food stamp fraud, but we also know the food stamp program’s effective and efficient,” Sen. Brown said in defense of the Senate farm bill’s language. “There has been significant increased costs, but the significant increased cost is because many, many more people need the SNAP program.
“Many of the people who have proposed significant SNAP cuts say it’s because of fraud, but they are ignoring the fact that, first of all, we’re doing this well, … there’s a low error rate in this huge benefit program. But the whole issue is jobs and the economy. We’ve got to get the economy back on track because there is more need for this program.”
Sen. Brown said a “huge portion” of the individuals receiving food stamps have jobs but are making such a low wage they qualify for the assistance.
“The people that are complaining about the fraud and voting no because of it really are advocating major cuts in programs that will throw people off food stamps who really need it,” he said.