It's time for a new revenue-based farm bill that's friendly to trade and the growing biofuels industry. That's according to the Illinois Corn Growers Association which released a formal White Paper this week, based on extensive farmer surveys and 10 listening sessions conducted last fall. Input from 236 farmer respondents was gathered.
ICGA President Steve Ruh noted strong continuity amongst Illinois farmers in the general direction they think the new farm bill should take this fall, despite where they live in the state or what crops or livestock they raise.
Most farmers (78% of those surveyed) believe the 2007 farm bill shouldn't guarantee profitability, but should provide a reasonable financial safety net. Sixty percent favored changing the safety net to help if income is low, rather than if prices are low as is the case in current farm legislation. "We've long strived for deriving money from the marketplace, not Uncle Sam," says Ruh.
Most farmers oppose a permanent disaster aid program. Of those surveyed, 62% are against reducing funding for program payments and reserving those funds for a rainy day, drought or another type of agricultural disaster.
Most ICGA members feel market access and a trade friendly farm bill will be critical. "Trade is very important and it's here to stay," says Ruh. Some 78% of respondents say international trade will positively affect their profits in the next decade, and 58% expressed willingness to accept less financial support from the farm bill is international trade became more open and transparent.
Illinois farmers also want more emphasis on biofuels in the new Farm Bill. A large majority of farmers believe the biofuels industry will change agriculture's future, with 88% indicating it will have a positive effect on farm income. With the explosion in ethanol, some 65% of farmers surveyed favor cutting government subsidies and trade protection for the ethanol industry over time.
While the ethanol boom has placed a burden on the livestock industry in the form of higher feed costs, 79% of those surveyed objected to slowing the ethanol industry for the sake of livestock producers. It will be a challenge to produce enough to meet growing biofuels need and livestock needs, says Ruh, but he believes there is enough feedstock for both food and fuel.
Over the past decade, the ICGA has put a lot of research dollars into dried distiller's grains (DDGS) and finding a home for the ethanol byproduct, according to Mark Lambert, ICGA director of communications. On the dairy and beef side, DDGS are a very competitive and attractive feed source. Asia is also "starting to experiment with the product and they like it," notes Lambert.
Ruh adds, "It's a critical time to help livestock. I think it (DDGS) will increase livestock numbers at the end of the day." Ruh says he recently tried to purchase DDGS at an ethanol plant in Rochelle for a neighboring cattle producer and was told that they were sold out until June.
Illinois farmers were more divided on conservation issues. More than 61% believed government payments should be tied to conservation practices, but the Conservation Security Program (CSP) in the 2002 Farm Bill was received unfavorably with 61% saying it hadn't lived up to their expectations. The CSP program is only in place in two Illinois watersheds – the Upper Sangamon in central Illinois and Kishwaukee in northern Illinois.
The view the full Farm Bill Initiative white paper you can go to: www.ilcorn.org/farm_bill_white_paper.pdf.