Four Senators this week announced legislation that would place a cap on the farm payments an individual farmer can receive in a year and close loopholes in the farm payment program.
The Farm Program Integrity Act of 2013, introduced by Sens. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, Tim Johnson, D-S.D., Mike Enzi, R-Wyo. and Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, mirrors language that was included in the Senate-passed farm and nutrition bill in 2012.
The legislation would establish a per farm cap of $50,000 on all commodity program benefits, except those associated with the marketing loan program (loan deficiency payments and marketing loan gains), which would be capped at $75,000. Thus the combined limit would be $125,000, or, for married couples, $250,000. The $50,000 cap would apply to whatever type of program is developed as part of the new Farm Bill.
The bill also closes loopholes that currently allow non-farmers to qualify for federal farm payments.
"Ending some of the most egregious abuses of the farm program will ensure that the farm program payments are going to those who need them most," Grassley said. "It's unacceptable that small- and medium-sized farmers get so little of the very program that was created to help them."
Beyond the hard caps on farm payments, The Farm Program Integrity Act of 2013 also includes a provision to begin closing the loopholes that allow people who aren't involved in farming to collect farm payments. The provision prevents non-farmers from being able to use the management loophole in current law. The bill would define clearly the scope of people who are able to qualify as actively engaged by only providing management for the farming operation. The bill will allow one off-farm manager.
Landowners who share rent land to an actively-engaged producer remain exempt from the "actively engaged" rules provided their payments are commensurate to their risk in the crop produced. This provision will help the Department of Agriculture crack down on the general partnerships that have multiple non-farmers trying to qualify for farm payments by exploiting the management loophole.
"While big farms get bigger while small and mid-sized family farmers get squeezed," Brown said. "For too long farm program payments have gone to producers who do not need the support—and sometimes to people who are not involved in farming. The provisions in the Senate-passed farm bill and the bill we are introducing today are common sense solutions designed to ensure assistance is directed to those who need it most."
Enzi said the bill was a way to build on reforms already announced by the Senate.
"The federal government shouldn't be in the business of sending taxpayer dollars to farm operations who don't need it," Enzi said. "This bill would help make the system more reasonable."
Both the National Farmers Union and the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition support the bill.
"Farm bill programs should be designed to help protect family farmers in times of need, and should focus that assistance where it is most needed and is most helpful to family farmers as well as rural communities," said NFU President Roger Johnson. "Directing farm program benefits so that they meet the reasonable needs of family farmers would reduce government costs while furthering the sustainability of our family farms, our rural communities and our natural resources."
Ferd Hoefner, NSAC policy director, said the bill was an "excellent place to start," noting the bill's relation to the Farm Bill.
"The prospects for actually getting a new five-year bill enacted this year will be much improved if the dual principles reflected in the Farm Program Integrity Act – directing benefits to working farmers with reasonable caps – guide all farm safety net program deliberations.”
Click here to see full bill text.