LISBON, Ohio – The new farm bill was probably not on the minds of most participants at last week’s roundtable with U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown in Columbiana County, but it topped Myron Wehr’s list.
The New Waterford area cash grain farmer hoped to voice his concerns about a range of farm bill-related issues, but only had time to speak out in favor of crop insurance and stronger animal identification efforts.
What he – and other business and agency leaders attending – heard back from Brown: The war in Iraq is draining money available for just about every domestic program.
The senator heard from 19 individuals representing the county’s schools, villages, businesses, public agencies and veterans.
Blocked by rules. Brown said after the meeting that the Senate’s version of the farm bill was held up last month by parliamentary procedure.
A cloture vote failed prior to the Thanksgiving recess. The motion would have allowed the bill to proceed in the Senate after almost two weeks on the floor without action.
Brown blamed Republican add-ons for the stalled bill. The Democrats wanted to stick to the farm bill, he said, while the Republicans wanted to add tax and immigration issues as amendments.
“There’s so much we want to do on agriculture,” Brown said. “I want to stick to that.”
Brown is the first senator from Ohio in 40 years to serve on the agriculture committee.
Nutrition emphasis. Brown championed domestic nutrition and food assistance programs within the farm bill, specifically by increasing food stamp programs and offering more access to fresh, locally grown foods.
Brown and others are pushing for savings from the proposed Average Crop Revenue program to be earmarked for nutrition assistance to low-income residents. The proponents say cost savings from the revenue program would let the U.S. raise the food stamp asset limit, increase the minimum food stamp benefit and also help food banks.
Pre-Christmas blizzard. Congress returned from its Thanksgiving break this week to face a flurry of important legislation.
In addition to the farm bill, the Senate has yet to act on an energy bill, and both the House and Senate need to finalize federal appropriations bills. A stopgap spending bill expires in mid-December.
Crop insurance. Whenever the Senate does get around to voting on its farm bill, Brown said crop insurance reform will be a big factor in swaying his vote. The current crop insurance program puts too much of the federal dollars into insurance companies’ pockets and not farmers’, the first-term Senator said.
“That money is not going to farmers and it’s not going to a safety net.”
A Brown amendment to revamp the insurance program, and specifically reduce the amount paid to crop insurance companies for program administration and operation, was part of the original Senate “chairman’s mark” of the farm bill, but was altered during debate.
Farmers are getting impatient to know what shape revenue payments and crop insurance will take under the new farm bill, as they look ahead to costs for the next crop year. Myron Wehr projects it will cost between $475 and $490 to produce an acre of corn in 2008, and that includes $35/acre for crop insurance. He wants to know – sooner, rather than later – if that input cost is going to increase.
“It [crop insurance cost] could go to $50 or $60 per acre,” Wehr said. “Then we get really close to the question: Can we afford it?”
As a victim of a recent fire in a machinery shed, Wehr knows the value of insurance and doesn’t want to answer that question with a ‘no.’
“We’ve got to have crop insurance to protect our investment.”
No timetable. No one’s quite sure when the Senate will resume its debate on the farm bill, or if it will vote before the end of December.
And even after it passes its bill, the Senate must marry its version with the House version in conference committee.
(Editor Susan Crowell can be reached at 800-837-3419 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.)