Ag package includes direct payments and crop insurance reform

WASHINGTON — The House and Senate have approved the conference committee version of a package of crop insurance reforms and farm assistance, sending the bill to the White House.



Premium assistance for producers will be improved at all levels of coverage.



In addition, the conference report includes instructions about how $7.1 billion in previously budgeted producer assistance will be distributed to producers suffering from another year of unprecedented low market values for their crops. The measure directs $5.466 billion in market loss payments to producers in September, in amounts equal to their 1999 AMTA “transition payment” checks — a payment method the House Ag Committee called “predictable… and so far the only disaster help that USDA has demonstrated it can deliver in a timely manner.”



Another $1.6 billion in additional assistance comes within the fiscal year 2001 budget.



During Senate consideration of the report, Sen. Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, questioned the wisdom of tacking on the $5.5 billion to farmers’ market transition payments, a procedure to which the Clinton Administration strenuously objects.



“Small family farmers are not getting an equitable share of federal agriculture spending,” said Harkin. “In fact, there is little assurance that (transition) payments go to those most in need.”



Harkin said a recipient at the high end of the spectrum may qualify for as much as $240,000 in (transition) payments this fiscal year, relying on payment limitation loopholes. “The unequal distribution of these payments helps bigger farms bury the smaller ones,” he said.



Among the features of the bill as finally approved are:



COMMODITY ASSISTANCE



– $5.45 billion in market loss payments to farmers, an amount equal to payments for FY 2000;



– $500 million to oilseed producers;



– $59.45 million for Perishable Agricultural Commodities Act (PACA) reserve fund and the inspection reserve;



– $200 million to purchase specialty crops that experienced low prices in the 1998 and 1999 crop years, including apples, black-eyed peas, cherries, citrus, cranberries, onions, melons, peaches, potatoes and others;



– $25 million to compensate growers for losses resulting from plum pox virus, Pierce’s disease and canker;



– $47 million to both peanut quota growers and “additional” growers;



– $340 million to tobacco growers;



– Recourse loan for honey producers on the 2000 crop of honey at 85 percent of the average price of honey during the preceding five crop years;



– Payments to wool producers of $0.20 per pound and mohair producers of $0.40 per pound for the 1999 marketing year; and– $100 million to producers and first handlers of cottonseed.



CONSERVATION ASSISTANCE



– $10 million for the Farmland Protection Program; conservation organizations are allowed to hold easements in those states that do not have a state defined farmland protection program; and



– $40 million to provide soil, water and natural resource conservation assistance to farmers in the form of cost share or incentive payments;



RESEARCH ASSISTANCE



– $15 million in FY 2001 to the Consortium for Agricultural Soils Mitigation of Greenhouse Gases for carbon cycle research at the national, regional and local levels;



– $3 million in FY 2001 for research on the extraction and purification of proteins from genetically altered tobacco that can be used as a vaccine for cervical cancer;



– Provides a grant to the University of Nebraska for laboratories and equipment for research on soil science and forest health and management;



– $3.5 million to expand research related to livestock production waste streams;



– $5 million in FY 2001 for USDA to review and assess potential problems associated with livestock and poultry waste management systems;



– $14 million to USDA for the construction of a corn-based ethanol research pilot plant.



The package also authorizes within USDA $49 million for each of fiscal years 2000 through 2005, and provides appropriated for biomass research and development under the general authority of the Secretary of Energy to establish a Biomass Research and Development Initiative; and



It also enacts the “Plant Protection Act,” which enhances the authority of USDA to regulate in interstate and foreign commerce, the movement of any plant, plant product, biological control organism, or noxious weed.

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