Posted on 20 May 2013 by Neilson
With committee approval for a five-year federal farm bill, legislators and farmers alike are hoping that Congress will end the recent tactic of passing stop-gap agriculture measures and provide long-term stability to the industry.
Rep. Cheri Bustos, D-East Moline, and her colleagues on the House Agriculture Committee voted to approve the farm bill and send it to an eventual full House vote. While the House's farm bill is significantly different from the Senate's version of the bill, Bustos said its passage out of committee is a triumph for farmers.
She said the House version of the bill includes comprehensive insurance for farmers at risk of damaged crops due to increasingly hostile weather conditions.
"Illinois farmers have endured some of the most extreme weather events in years," Bustos said in a call with reporters. "It was very important to have strong and stable price insurance. This allows them to put food on our tables and gives them some assurance."
A Bustos-sponsored amendment to the bill was included in the final package, which requires the federal government to update studies on rural transportation and improve waterway infrastructure and drought prevention.
But what Bustos is most proud of is the price insurance, which will protect farmers against bad yields. Galesburg farmer Doug Inness said such insurance should be the cornerstone of any farm bill.
The corn and soybean grower said he collected such insurance revenue in 2005, after a drought gripped the area.
"It gives us some direction and gives our industry some security," Inness said. "It is tax dollars well spent, which you can't always say. It certainly helped us get through the year."
The Illinois Farm Bureau applauded the inclusion of such insurance.
"Crop insurance is essential for effective risk management," said Philip Nelson, Illinois Farm Bureau president. "That was borne out during the 2012 drought. There are no federal farm disaster programs in place. Purchasing crop insurance will enable many farmers who lost crops in the drought to farm for another year."
There are steep cost-cutting measures included in both the House and Senate versions of the bill. The House's bill would save almost $4 billion annually, including $600 million in cuts brought on by the sequester. Both bills include cuts to the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, more commonly known as food stamps, with the House voting to cut $2 billion from the program annually. About $80 billion of the bill's $100 billion annual price tag is accounted for by food assistance.
Bustos said she voted for amendments to eliminate the cuts to food stamps, but said she voted for the overall bill because of the benefit to farmers.
"That was a tough part of the vote," she said. "But we need to have a farm bill. This bill is too important to our family farmers."
The House bill also will phase out direct payments to farmers, given indiscriminately each year regardless of a farmer's yield or revenue.
Inness said he supports both cuts to the food stamp and direct payment programs.
"All the farm bill should do is help farmers get through lean years," he said. "There's a misconception that farmers expect something they don't deserve. That is not true. Farmers should be responsible for making their own revenue. All we ask for is some stabilization. We don't want direct payments anymore. I don't think you would find a grain farmer in the area who would disagree."
The next step in the legislative process is to reconcile the differences in the two chambers' bills. Bustos said she couldn't say how she would vote on the bill once it is amended.
"The difference between the House and Senate bills is extreme," she said. "We've seen people out here draw lines in the sand. I'm not going to do that. My goal here is to support good legislation."