Regional Approach to Farm Bill?

U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson, Chair of the House Ag Committee, suggests multiple programs for regions and crops during a field hearing in Georgia.

Published on: May 17, 2010

Southern farmers told the House Ag Committee that agricultural operations in their region have different needs than those in other parts of the country.

Committee Chairman Collin Peterson, D-Minn., heard them.

"Maybe it's time that we're going to have different programs for different areas, for different crops," Peterson said during the hearing at the National Archives Southeast Region facility in Morrow, Ga., on the outskirts of Atlanta. He urged producers to "think out of the box" and send their ideas to Congress.

U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Ala., echoed Peterson's closing comment.

"Be thinking of some creative modifications we can make that would make it better for you," Rogers said.

For those most part, growers who spoke at the four-hour hearing said the 2008 Farm Bill needs a polish rather than a renovation.

"I believe several key provisions of the current farm bill most remain in place for any new legislation," Decatur County farmer Andy Bell said. "Farmers need downside price protection against extreme low prices. The marketing loan program is a must for all program crops. All crop production on a farm should remain eligible for the marketing loan."

Bell also pushed to keep the direct and counter-cyclical payment programs.

The area that most needs work is crop insurance

For instance, Georgia Farm Bureau President Vincent "Zippy" Duvall said, "Not a single Georgia farm has signed up for the ACRE [Average Crop Revenue Election] program, largely because it is not beneficial to cotton and peanut farmers," Another insurance product, the Supplemental Revenue Assistant Program, or SURE, is slowly gaining ground in the south, Duvall said.

On other fronts, Friday's presenters told Congress that dairy policy doesn't account for a Southeast milk deficit, sound science must be the basis for any environmental regulation and payment limits need to – but don't currently – consider multiple crop needs, particularly the separate lines of equipment for Southern crops, such as cotton and peanuts.

"Good farm policy does not accomplish much if commercial farming operations are ineligible for benefits," Duvall said. "As an organization we oppose payment limits and means testing to determine farm program eligibility."

Georgia Peanut Commission Chairman Armond Morris, who farms in Irwinville, and Ronnie Lee, who farms in Bronwood, run an operation some outside agriculture would consider too large to be family operations. Yet still fall enough to fail.

"I am not a wealthy man, yet many reformers would argue that my farm should be outside the bounds of federal payment limitations. This is not a rational argument," Morris said. "If we depended on farmers markets, hobby farmers and the smallest peanut farms for peanut production, there would not be a sufficient supply of peanut butter on the shelves of America's grocery stores or in our school lunch program."

Lee farms with his three sons and a nephew. He has to be large enough to afford the equipment to grow and harvest multiple crops – including peanuts, cotton and grain – while still scrounging enough profit to feed five families.

"Somebody wants to tell me I'm too big?" Lee asked. "I don't know how to get smaller."