Last week, after U.S. Ag Secretary Mike Johanns announced the Bush Administration's 2007 Farm Bill recommendations, Pennsylvania Governor Edward Rendell presented Pennsylvania's suggestions. The farm bill will be a key federal legislation that guides agriculture and nutrition programs for the next five years.
Since 2005, Pennsylvania has conducted listening sessions with the state's farmers, ag leaders, scholars and nutrition experts on the challenges facing the industry. The Governor's recommendations range from specialty and organic crop programs to risk management and biosecurity funding. Highlights from the recommendations include:
- Improve dairy prices with several policy changes to increase product demand and strengthen producer prices. One provision called for the elimination of the Dairy Price Support Program and restructuring the Milk Income Loss Contract into a Milk Target Price Program.
The latter would pay farmers directly from Commodity Credit Corporation whenever manufacturing price failed to reach a target price. Develop a Milk Revenue Insurance Program specifically for the dairy industry. It would be patterned after the Adjusted Gross Revenue program, initially developed by Pennsylvania.
- Strengthen conservation on farms by increasing funding for environmental stewardship programs. Funding is often inadequate to meet the regulations on air, water and soil quality.
Reforming the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program was also on the list. The goal is to ensure that only highly environmentally-sensitive lands are enrolled, and not highly productive soils. Another new provision being sought is priority funding to certified organic producers.
- Begin the shift away from feed grain payments to "green payments" for farmers delivering environmental benefits, and develop revenue-based risk management programs to replace counter-cyclical programs.
- Expand energy programs to meet future renewable energy needs. Developing technology and programs for renewable energy should be a focal point of the Farm Bill including ethanol, biodiesel, cellulosic, wind and solar energy. One provision sought is to allow harvest of renewable energy crops on CREP ground.
- Expand risk management protection by improving crop insurance and revenue insurance programs by providing higher coverage levels. Pennsylvania developed the only state-owned crop insurance product in the nation – AGR-Lite, now offered by 28 other states.
That's a very short list of recommendations. For more details and the full list of recommendations, visit www.agriculture.state.pa.us. Click on '2007 Farm Bill Recommendations.'