Debating a five-year farm bill

Moderated by Rick Badie

The U.S. Senate has begun work on a new five-year farm bill that would spend $970 billion on federal agriculture and cut expenditures by $23.6 billion during the next decade. Safety nets for Southern growers remain a concern. Georgia peanut farmers, for example, want direct payments to continue while Midwestern corn and soybean producers favor crop insurance. Submit your comments below.

Ga. peanut farmers deserve a fair shake

By Armond Morris

The U.S. Senate is debating the 2012 farm bill, and peanut farmers are concerned about the proposals being bandied about in Washington.

Nothing in the proposed Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2012 that passed out of the Senate Agriculture Committee and is on the floor of the Senate provides any safety net for peanut farmers. I hope we can continue to work with Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and other senators to find common ground.

What a farm bill does is provide a safety net for farmers when markets tank.

Commodity markets can be very volatile, and the profit margins are normally very thin. Most businesses would never operate on the volume of borrowed money with such narrow margins as do farmers on a regular basis.

For peanut farmers the need is even greater. On numerous occasions, there have been efforts to get a futures market for peanuts, but the volume of trades and the interest in speculation are too limited.

A futures market allows a farmer to price his commodity at planting if he chooses. This gives him some protection from future price declines.

With peanuts, a farmer either has to be fortunate enough to get a contract for delivering to a peanut sheller or he is at the mercy of the market. There are only a handful of peanut shellers left from which farmers can seek a contract.

Farmers have to deal with the vagaries of weather, disease, insects, practically everything Mother Nature can throw our way. Those issues can be managed through various management tools and cultural practices to try to lessen the impact.

Markets are a different beast and the absence of a futures market — which is available to producers of corn, soybeans, cotton and wheat — severely limits the management tools available to a farmer who produces peanuts.

Georgia produces about 46 percent of the U.S. peanut crop, and the value at the farm gate is just under a half-billion dollars. But peanuts mean more than just income to farmers.

We buy production inputs such as seed, fertilizer and fuel, and we spend money after the crop note has been paid on food, electricity, clothes, furniture — the same things on which any other consumer spends his or her disposable income.

Farmers fuel Georgia’s largest economic engine.

All we ask is to get a fair shake for our farmers, too. It is not right to increase the payments for Midwestern corn and soybean farmers while yanking the rug out from fewer than 3,500 Georgia families in 70 counties.

We appreciate our senators hanging tough and trust they can improve what is now a bad situation for Southern agriculture.

Armond Morris is chairman of the Georgia Peanut Commission.

Farm bill creates jobs, ends direct payments

By Joe Shultz

Americans overwhelmingly want members of Congress to work together. They want bipartisan compromise on initiatives to help American businesses and workers grow the economy. They want Washington to stop bickering, enact reforms and save taxpayer dollars.

While bipartisan compromise remains scarce on Capitol Hill, the new 2012 Farm Bill before the Senate now will cut spending and help create jobs. Formally titled the Agriculture Reform, Food and Jobs Act, the bill has received broad support from senators in every part of the country and passed its first procedural vote 90-8.

Agriculture is a bright spot in our economy that supports 16 million jobs. It is one of the only sectors in which America has a trade surplus and every billion in agricultural exports means another 8,400 American jobs. Failure to pass the farm bill before the current one expires in September would send job-killing uncertainty jolting through a sector critical to economic recovery.

Passing it means expansion in export opportunities, investments in research to advance agricultural innovations and the creation of local markets for farmers in all 50 states. Jobs will be created across America with strategies to expand nonfood-based, bio-energy production and bio-manufacturing.

The farm bill doesn’t come with a big price tag. It cuts spending by $23.6 billion by enacting the most significant reforms of American agriculture policy in decades. If this bill passes, the era of direct payments ends. Farmers will no longer be paid for crops they don’t grow or when they’re doing well.

The bill eliminates three other subsidy programs and moves to a new, fair risk-management system for farmers in every part of the country. This provides farmers with responsible tools to manage their risk so farms aren’t wiped out because of bad weather or market volatility. Transitioning to this system alone saves $15 billion.

The bill strengthens risk management tools for Southern farmers such as rice and peanut growers. For example, this bill provides new and expanded crop insurance tools for rice and peanut growers to manage risk. It provides minimum support levels in new commodity risk-management subsidies specifically for rice and peanuts.

We have said we are willing to include other ideas proposed by Southern growers as long as those ideas allow us to continue to reduce the deficit and fit within the framework of reform.

We didn’t stop with ending subsidies. We looked at every agriculture program and strengthened what was working and cut what wasn’t. In the end, we eliminated more than 100 different programs and authorizations.

For example, we consolidated 23 conservation programs into 13 easier-to-use initiatives. Nearly 650 environmental groups in 50 states support this common-sense approach that will mean less erosion, cleaner water, healthier wildlife habitats and less government spending.

The Senate farm bill also improves integrity to the food-assistance program. It cuts down on fraud and abuse and ensures that aid goes to those who truly need it.

Americans are rightly frustrated by Congress’ inability to work together. We have an opportunity to cut spending and help farmers and businesses create jobs.

Joe Shultz is senior economist for the U.S. Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry.

Another view on legislation

By David Lathem

Egg farmers in Georgia, the seventh-largest egg producing state in the nation, have joined with other farmers across the country to ask Congress for help. It won’t increase government costs or taxes, and supports a long history of egg farmers being self-supporting.

But there is a lot at stake for family farmers like me as well as consumers who eat some of the 76 billion eggs America’s hens produce each year.

The proposed law, (HR 3798 and S 3239), is an amendment to the four-decades-old Egg Products Inspection Act.

The bill would require the gradual replacement of conventional cages for egg-laying hens with new housing that provides nearly twice the amount of space per hen, as well as other enrichments such as perches, nesting boxes and scratching areas.

The bill would eliminate the duplicative and conflicting state laws that are confusing to consumers, grocers, restaurateurs and farmers, and replace it with one national standard. This sensible approach is supported by more than 40 state egg and farm organizations that include our family farm here in Georgia; 10 animal protection groups such as the Humane Society of the United States and the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals; scientific groups such as the American Veterinary Medical Association and the Association of Avian Pathologists; and consumer groups such as the National Consumers League and Consumer Federation of America.

The bill also has bipartisan support in Congress, with more than 70 Republicans and Democrats combining to co-sponsor it in the House of Representatives and U.S. Senate. That’s a notable achievement in today’s political climate. Moreover, the bill is supported by voters, too, by a 4-to-1 margin, according to independent polling.

This bill will preserve the 2,700 plus jobs in our state and protect the $214 million in Georgia egg production. Farmers and egg companies would have more confidence in our future and could fuel investments in new or improved farm infrastructure over 18 years. This investment will bring new manufacturing, construction, transportation and installation jobs to hundreds of rural communities like ours.

Congress has only to look at Europe to see what could happen in the U.S. without passage of this egg bill. There, the European Commission’s single compliance deadline for egg farmers has caused reports of egg shortages and higher prices for European consumers.

The gradual phase-in period and specific housing guidelines outlined in our legislation will assure the U.S. marketplace of a stable egg industry and supply.

This legislation is an excellent idea for consumers, farmers, grocers, restaurateurs and hens. Let’s hope lawmakers see it that way, too, when they vote on it later this month!

David Lathem, a second-generation egg farmer from Pendergrass, is chairman of the United Egg Producers.

4 comments Add your comment

rdbrewer

June 21st, 2012
1:21 pm

What is it with you people. No one is sending me taxpayers money. It’s sink or swim, baby.

rdbrewer

June 21st, 2012
1:20 pm

GA farmers don’t deserve jack sh*t from taxpayers.

David McCuskey

June 20th, 2012
3:35 pm

I am in S/W Colorado where the livelihood of most farmers comes from pinto beans and alfalfa. The farmers here buy crop insurance in case of a bad season, etc. Otherwise we make what the market dictates, no handouts.

SAWB

June 20th, 2012
3:29 pm

The Federal Government should assure free and open markets for the goods farmers produce, but should not guarantee them a payment if no one wants to buy their product. If insurance is needed the Federal Government should work with private insurers and farmers to develop effective coverage. If a farmer cannot compete it is not the responsibility of other citizens to subsidize them with our tax money.