House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., recently told wheat growers meeting in Washington to expect a debate on the future of the $5 billion per year direct payments to farmers.
"We have some issues in crop insurance that we need to address," Peterson said. "I keep hearing from farmers around that the current safety net is not adequate. We've got another disaster in the South that they're asking for an ad hoc disaster because the current program isn't working for them. So I'd like us to have a discussion about is there a way to use this money to give a better safety net for the farmers. I don't have an exact idea at this point, but I just wonder if there is a better way to do it."
Peterson added that the ad hoc disaster payment supported by southern lawmakers was a hard sell and that the government should do more to encourage growers to buy higher levels of crop insurance.
Regarding the Standard Reinsurance Agreement between the Risk Management Agency and crop insurance companies, Peterson said the agriculture committee asked for this in the 2008 Farm Bill.
"However, I did not envision them proposing something that would take an additional $4 billion out of crop insurance," Peterson said. "I think it is premature for us to be doing that given the fact that we took a fair amount out of it in the Farm Bill. If they implement an SRA with that much of a cut in crop insurance, what happens is that goes out of the baseline and its not available for the next farm bill."
Peterson plans to hold public hearings on the 2012 Farm Bill as early as March and hopes the entire focus will not be on payment limits, which he said is not reform. Peterson is not anticipating having any less, or any more, money to write the next farm bill compared to the 2008 Farm Bill.