Farm Bureau rewrites policy during Hawaii meetings

Jan 13, 2012
by DTN

Members of the American Farm Bureau Federation (Farm Bureau) voted to rewrite much of the group’s policy on farm programs and also removed language supporting a specific program that had been touted by the group’s board of directors and staff.

Farm Bureau delegates meeting in Hawaii stripped the Systemic Risk Reduction Program (SRRP) from their farm bill guidelines.

Farm Bureau delegates reversed their position last Tuesday from last year’s farm-policy recommendations that had effectively defended keeping much of the commodity title from the 2008 farm bill intact. Instead, Farm Bureau stripped its policies supporting direct payments, counter-cyclical payments, and the Average Crop Revenue Election program.

The most significant of those is the elimination of direct payments, with Farm Bureau members acknowledging the $5 billion a year farm program is going to be eliminated as Congress works to craft a new safety net this year.

Delegates voted on a broader set of principles for an overall commodity program. Farm Bureau tried to emphasize that a safety net can’t protect a farmer from avoiding all but minimal crop losses. Producers supported a farm bill that provides “a strong and effective safety net/risk management programs that do not guarantee a profit, but instead protects producers from catastrophic occurrences while minimizing the potential for farm programs affecting production decisions.”

Further, the farm bill should be compliant with the World Trade Organization (WTO) and reduce complexity for producers.

Yet, delegates declined to specifically include the SRRP that Farm Bureau staff created last fall to counter the shallow-loss programs championed by commodity organizations in the failed supercommittee talks. In fact, no Farm Bureau delegates spoke in favor of keeping the SRRP language when the motion was raised to strike the language.

Regional differences showed somewhat when southern farmers from Mississippi, Georgia and Arkansas touted language that would have stated Farm Bureau supports a farm bill with options and flexibility in programs which account for regional and commodity differences. That language failed after Farm Bureau President Bob Stallman noted, “It doesn’t give us direction.” Another delegate said the language would have put Farm Bureau back in a vague position on the farm bill.

Farmers also rejected a policy to tie eligibility for crop insurance to conservation compliance, which conservation groups have been championing as higher commodity prices have made eligibility for farm programs less of a hook for assuring farmers maintain higher conservation standards.

Earlier in the day, Farm Bureau members also adopted a “sense of the body” resolution advocating that the federal government work towards a balanced budget, primarily through budget cuts, by 2019. Still, farmers voted for some resolutions indicating they weren’t ready to commit to aggressively reduce farm program support in some key areas they rely on for a safety net.

Delegates rejected a resolution to support direct payments, but they voted overwhelmingly— 253 to 79—to effectively raise marketing-loan rates for commodities. The resolution added language stating that Farm Bureau supports the current marketing assistance loan program “with loan rates established to better reflect market values.”

Further, Farm Bureau delegates stated the group opposes means testing for farm program eligibility, but if implemented, it should be based on net income rather than gross income. Farm programs also should maintain the current definition of actively engaged.

When it comes to crop insurance, Farm Bureau stated the federal government should continue financial support “at a percent not less than current levels” with the private sector continuing to serve as the primary deliverer of insurance.

In other crop insurance matters, delegates said federal crop insurance should recognize Farm Service Agency figures and maps.

Farm Bureau delegates defeated a proposal to strike resolution language that would ensure the federal crop insurance program is actuarially sound. The explanation was that federal crop insurance was never meant to be an actuarially-sound program, but to instead help farmers during disasters.

In dairy policy, Farm Bureau tried to find language that would work with the National Milk Producers Federation dairy proposal and legislation The group supports efforts to manage milk supply which account for the regional differences in fluid milk demand and supply.

The delegates also voted that since the country of origin labeling (COOL) has been struck down by WTO, Farm Bureau supports U.S.-origin labeling that conforms with COOL parameters and meets WTO requirements. — Chris Clayton, DTN