Members of the House Agriculture Committee heard a similar message 10 times from 10 different producers representing Kansas, Colorado, Texas and Nebraska in its final field hearing on the 2012 Farm Bill in Dodge City on Friday.
“Crop insurance is our single most valuable tool,” the message went. “Don’t mess with crop insurance. Look for ways to strengthen crop insurance.”
Beyond that message, the 10 producers who testified before there members of the House committee talked about the difficulty of making sure that whatever insurance program is offered, it is flexible enough to offer a safety net for a diverse agriculture industry, whose needs vary widely from one region of the country to another.
Committee members present for the hearing were Chairman Frank Lucas of Oklahoma, Tim Huelskamp of the Kansas First District, who was host to the hearing, and Rep. K. Michael Conaway of the Texas 11th District. The full House committee has 46 members.
Farmers also expressed concern about maintaining incentives for conservation, with regulations, particularly those from EPA, and the Department of Labor proposed rule on child labor.
Woody Anderson, a cotton farmer from Colorado City, Texas, said that the severe drought of 2011 is a perfect example of how well the current crop insurance system works.
“I was unable to harvest even one acre of cotton,” he told the committee. “Without the safety net provided by crop insurance and other programs authorized by the farm legislation, it would be virtually impossible to survive such a devastating loss.”
Terry Swanson, who farms in southeastern Colorado, said crop insurance is the only reason he is still in business.
“Because I invest in crop insurance to protect my business investment, I am able to farm and ranch again in 2012,” he said. “Crop insurance is by far the most important component of my safety net and I ask that the committee does not harm this essential program.”
Farmers pointed out that the losses in the 2011 drought are among the worst disasters on record – but there is no outcry for an ad hoc disaster aid program.
Swanson went on to suggest that there should be reforms to the Actual Production History methodology and a better county Transitional Yield system to reflect what the producer could reasonable expect to produce in that year.
“In no case should the crop insurance tools, which are purchased by the producer, be weighed down with environmental compliance requirements or other conditions that fall out of the scope of insurance,” he said.
Central Kansas producer Kendall Hodgson told the committee that crop insurance needs to be revised to account for multiple years of low yields that can and will occur in the Great Plains, which regularly endures prolonged, cyclical drought.
He said today’s APH methodology and county T-yields system don’t reflect what a producer and his banker would expect production to be in a given year.
“The closer to the individual farm those expectations can be formulated, the better,” he said.
Hodgson also told the committee members that basic research has provided the backbone of modern agriculture’s success story.
“We didn’t get here by accident,” Hodgson said. “Let us not forget to keep funding the kind of research that private or corporate entities can’t justify that will enable producers to be even more efficient in the future.”
Livestock producer Frank Harper of Sedgwick, who is president of the Kansas Livestock Association, told the committee that he opposes a “Livestock Title” in the next Farm Bill. Having that title in the 2007 bill attracted proposals such as mandatory country of origin labeling, changes to the Grain Inspection Packers and Stockyards Act to limit marketing choices and other items that Harper says run counter to free enterprise,
Harper spoke in favor of conservation programs, especially the Environmental Quality Incentives Program, the Grassland Reserve Program, and the Farm and Ranchland Protection Program.
Oklahoma producer Scott Neufeld said crop insurance has served him well and he opposes applying payment limitations or means testing to crop insurance.
“A farmer who produces crops on 1,000 acres of cropland has to have adequate capital invested to efficiently farm these acres. A partnership or family corporation that has gone together and is producing crops on 10,000 acres has the same risk per acre as the smaller producer. Why would we penalize the larger producer by restricting the amount of protection they would be allowed? We need to change our mindset to a per acre basis, not a per operator basis,” he said.
Barton County farmer Keith Miller brought up the need for limited irrigation products. He said producers currently must declare acres either irrigated or non-irrigated. He said a limited irrigation product would encourage conservation by allowing producers with limited or declining water supplies to plant lower populations and set a lower yield goal while maintaining coverage at better than dryland levels.
Gary Harshberger, whom farms in Ford County, said crop insurance is critical. He added that the commodity title is challenging because it must necessarily be flexible enough to provide a safety net for a widely diverse set of circumstances.
The commodity title needs to be as simple as possible and bankable. If it ends up being several different complex proposals, then I would hope that I have the flexibility to choose based upon my own operation.”
Lucas told the producers and their audience of more than 200 that his personal goal is to give producers the tools they need to help them do what they do best, and that is produce the safest, most abundant, most affordable food supply in the world.
He urged those in the audience to share their concerns and offer their suggestions for the 2012 Farm Bill on the committee’s web site at www.agriculture.house.gov/farmbill