NFU members focus on new farm bill proposals, competition

Soybean field (Photo courtesy of United Soybean Board)

Farmers and ranchers attending the recent National Farmers Union’s 112th annual convention in Scottsdale, Arizona, debated a variety of policy reforms, including whether eligibility for commodity programs, and crop and livestock insurance, should be limited to small and mid-size farming operations.

The NFU policy committee proposed supporting a farm bill proposal that would place an adjusted gross income cap of $250,000 on anyone who wanted to enroll in the Agriculture Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage farm bill commodity programs. Another resolution proposed reducing subsidies for crop and livestock insurance policies as part of a tiered system, with higher AGI farmers receiving lower subsidy levels.

Under the 2018 farm bill, the existing AGI limit for farm programs is $900,000.

Nebraska Farmers Union President John Hansen argued against putting exact figures on any policy proposal.

“We’re a big tent operation,” he said. “Every time we start down this path of trying to put specific numbers on things, we run into trouble, because what we end up with at the end of the day is ‘A big farmer is somebody who’s slightly bigger than me.’”

North Dakota Farmers Union President Mark Watne also argued against specifying income numbers to provide more flexibility in discussions with lawmakers.

In an interview, he said there is interest in improving crop insurance and possibly moving away from ad hoc disaster assistance, but it’s not possible with the amount of funding currently available for the farm bill. He suggested moving subsidized crop insurance coverage levels up to 85% and paying for the increase by limiting the number of acres and farmers that could qualify to participate.

“If you want to farm a county or more, you just won’t have the support of the government behind you. We think that’s a better scenario for both the taxpayer and for getting more farms on the land,” he added.

Ultimately, the delegates, which represent 234,000 members, deleted the income cap language and supported policy that said, “farm programs need tighter eligibility requirements and caps on benefits to farmers.”

Asked about the organization’s top farm bill priorities, NFU President Rob Larew said members feel pretty strongly that ARC and PLC are currently “an inadequate safety net” because they “don’t kick in when it’s actually needed” and they also want a strong crop insurance program.

He suggested finding new ways in which “farmers are encouraged to continue to take advantage of crop insurance, but we might find some savings there.”

There was also considerable discussion over a proposal that would require packers to purchase 50% of cattle from the cash market, in line with federal legislation that’s already been introduced.

To be considered a “cash sale,” the packer must process the animal within 14 days of the purchase.

Attempts to remove the specific percentage in favor of “minimum” and “higher” failed.

Kansas Farmers Union President Donn Teske advocated for more flexibility to allow livestock grazing on lands enrolled in federal programs like the Conservation Reserve Program and the Environmental Quality Incentives Program—a policy that was also adopted.

In addition, delegates approved language:

· Calling on Congress to complete an investigation of commodity checkoff programs that includes a “complete and transparent accounting of all funds collected and disbursed.”

· Legislation requiring crop insurance companies that provide Livestock Risk Protection products to mitigate their market risk exposure by purchasing option contracts on the Board of Trade.

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· A stringent review process of any large agribusiness, food, beverage, and grocery retail mergers and acquisitions.

· Supporting artificial intelligence technologies that take into consideration the “ethical, environmental and societal impacts of these tools.”

· Opposed removing dams on the Snake and Columbia River systems, which a Montana delegate said would harm farmers and electrical utility users.

Editor’s note: Sara Wyant is publisher of Agri-Pulse Communications, Inc., www.Agri-Pulse.