Work on the 2007 Farm Bill is well underway as members of Congress and the Administration gather information on the massive piece of legislation. Up for renewal, the next farm bill will probably see significant change, if comments made by Agriculture Secretary Mike Johanns are any indication. The secretary has been making the rounds of farm shows, radio talk shows and other venues noting that keeping the current bill in place for another five years is "easier said than done."
This week several commodity and farm groups testified in a House Agriculture Committee hearing focused on a review of current federal farm policy. One group - the National Corn Growers Association - brought forward an idea that other groups may not be in agreement with, according to some wire reports.
NCGA President Gerald Tumbleson testified about increasing the value corn growers get from farm programs, boosting market orientation of farm programs and improving the efficiency in how taxpayer dollars are spent supporting agriculture. The group is promoting a revenue-based farm bill that includes two programs - the Base Revenue Protection and the Revenue Countercyclical Program. The programs would work together to assist producers when market revenue falls below target levels. BRP offers coverage against declines in farm-level crop-specific net revenue; RCCP builds a base with protection against declines in revenue measured at the county level. The second program is similar to the Group Risk Income Protection program found in federal crop insurance.
"NCGA has developed a multi-tiered, revenue-based concept for the commodity title. Our proposal takes the positive aspects of the current program and develops a more effective safety net for growers," Tumbleson told the committee.
Farm groups including the American Farm Bureau Federation and the American Soybean Association, however, are pushing for a continuation of the current farm bill, with perhaps higher payments to support producers. John Hoffman, ASA first vice president John Hoffman, spoke on behalf of that group, the National Sunflower Association and the U.S. Canola Association. He voiced oilseed producer support for maintaining the current ag spending baseline for writing new farm legislation. "Farmers need to make long-term economic decisions and conditions have changed sufficiently to justify a comprehensive review of farm policy," he says.
With regard to specific farm programs, Hoffman said that "oilseed producers have strongly supported the Marketing Loan as the most effective tool for ensuring the U.S. crops are competitive with foreign oilseed exports and for supporting producer income when world prices decline." He went on to say that "the Target Prices and Direct Payments established for oilseed crops in the current farm program are disproportionately low compared to other program crops."
The American Farm Bureau Federation continues to push for an extension of the current farm bill, noting the need to get a World Trade Organization agreement before any changes are made to U.S. farm policy. "This approach provides U.S. trade representatives the strongest negotiating leverage," says Bob Stallman, AFBF president. "If we reduce our domestic supports in an upcoming farm bill debate, we have less leverage to use to convince other countries to reduce their tariffs and export subsidies."
There will be plenty of continued debate over the approach of the new farm bill. If the Bush Administration can have an impact, chances are high that the next farm bill will have a different look.