The Senate Ag Committee Wednesday held the first in a series of meetings focused on the next farm bill. Ag Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., told the gathering that the farm bill will continue to play a major role in helping businesses create jobs in rural America. This first hearing of 2012 focused on rural development, bio-based manufacturing and farm bill energy initiatives.
Stabenow noted that bio-based manufacturing is a great example of new opportunities in rural America that create good jobs. She also highlighted energy as an area where growth potential exists in rural America saying that farm bill energy programs are spurring new, homegrown energy markets as well as keeping costs for farmers and other small businesses low.
During the hearing Ag Secretary Tom Vilsack told the panel that the U.S. has the potential to produce more than a billion dry tons of biomass each year for the energy industry by mid-century, without impacting other farm and forestry products. He says that would be enough to displace approximately 30% of our country's present petroleum consumption.
Missouri Farmers Union member Steve Flick, representing the National Farmers Union, and board chairman of Show Me Energy Cooperative, says Show Me Energy's use of BCAP is a compelling example of how farm bill energy title programs are incentivizing the production of dedicated energy crops. He told the committee that they need to be increasing those programs that will help revitalize rural America and help America become more energy secure.
Another topic that did come up during the hearing was President Obama's proposed cuts to crop insurance in his fiscal 2013 budget. Senators from both parties told Vilsack that cutting crop insurance by $8 billion after an earlier $6 billion reduction is not a good move.
"We've heard across the country from our field hearings last year in Michigan and Kansas as well as people talking to us hear how critical crop insurance is," Stabenow said. "We need you to speak to the President's proposals on cuts in farm programs, particularly about crop insurance."
Vilsack says it was either cut farm programs or cut nutrition assistance.
Former USDA Secretary and now Nebraska Senator Mike Johanns suggested Vilsack take the $8 billion in crop insurance savings from the much criticized SURE disaster program. Vilsack agreed about SURE’s shortcomings, but not about it being an answer for crop insurance. However Vilsack did agreed to work with Johanns and others to come up with a way to preserve crop insurance from further cuts to premium subsidies and payments to crop insurers.