Groups are lining up their arguments as the 2012 Farm Bill discussion expands. With field hearing set this week in Kansas and added hearings in Washington, attention will turn to the safety net farmers have and a debate of just how much they need. The General Accountability Office report released last week showing the potential savings for a cap on premiums has expanded the debate on the safety net to crop insurance.
In that report, GAO noted a premium limit of $40,000 could save as much as $1 billion in that program. The National Farmers Union chimed in that a $75,000 premium subsidy limit would be more realistic, while others say there should be no limit.
In his weekly blog, released last Friday, Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack notes that over the past three years, about two-thirds of producers enrolled in crop insurance have used it at one point. USDA crop insurance has paid out more than $20 billion in indemnities to more than 340,000 farmers who lost crops due to natural disasters.
"In that same thee-year period," he continues. "USDA's disaster assistance programs helped more than 250,000 farmers and ranchers suffering from severe drought and other challenges - providing payments worth more than $3.4 million."
Vilsack notes that as farmers debate the next Farm, Food and Jobs Bill, "a safety net that protects our farmers and ranchers must be a priority." He says that program should reflect the diversity of American agriculture working for operations of all types and sizes.
He adds that farmers planted crops this year without other pieces of the agency's disaster assistance program in place - SURE and the livestock disaster programs, which ended last year.
"That's why Congress should act as soon as possible to pass a farm bill. American producers should know that they'll have protection and assistance this year if they lose crops or livestock to natural disaster."
The safety net, and its size, remains a contentious issue. On top of that, there's a growing consensus that a 2012 Farm Bill may not move forward, with Congress passing a one-year extension instead, carrying the debate into 2013, where a different administration could be in power.