The future of the farm bill remains in limbo as the legislative calendar ticks toward the month-long August recess. House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., hopes to get the bill to the House floor before the break. But so far House Speaker Boehner says he has not decided when the bill will be brought to the floor.
Chairman Lucas said, “The bottom line is this: I am prepared to do whatever it takes to get a farm bill on the books and to tie down resources and policy for farmers and ranchers for the next five years. I prefer to go through regular order. If that’s not a viable vehicle, then I’m willing to look at tying it to something else.” That last part is a new wrinkle. We’ll be watching for what that “something else” might be!
Timing of horrific drought underscores central theme of farm group pleas for farm bill. Long before this summer’s disaster began to unfold, farmers and ranchers from each corner of the country and nearly every major commodity group have testified in both the House and Senate about what that Farm Bill needed to do. There was one main theme that threaded through their testimony: “Do no harm to crop insurance!”
Agriculture secretary Vilsack says counties labeled by the U.S. Drought Monitor as in “severe” drought (or worse) for eight consecutive weeks or in “extreme” drought in any week will automatically receive secretarial designation as disaster areas.
Under this system 1,016 counties in 26 states were immediately declared disaster areas. The loan rate for emergency loans was reduced to 2.25%. Effective immediately, landowners with land in the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) will only have to give up 10 percent of their payment if the land is hayed or grazed under the Emergency Haying and Grazing program, instead of the 25% that had to be foregone previously.
A bill to reinstate the supplemental revenue Assistance Program (sUre), which expired last year, has been introduced by Senators Max Baucus, Jon Tester, Kent Conrad and Tim Johnson. SURE would provide up to $100,000 in disaster aid to crop producers located in counties designated disaster areas.
Agriculture Secretary Vilsack has already declared more than 1,000 counties as disaster areas with additional counties likely to be added as the drought conditions drag on and expand. The proposed bill would also resurrect the Livestock Indemnity Program, the Livestock Forage Program and the Emergency Livestock Assistance Program.
Agriculture Secretary Vilsack has also taken steps to speed up processing times for counties affected by drought and reduced the interest rate for emergency loans.
Producers in areas where crops will be reduced by adverse weather should contact their crop insurance agent to be sure that procedures are followed that will allow claims to be settled promptly and to their satisfaction. This is the advice from Bill Murphy, administrator of USDA’s Risk Management Service.
The insurance company needs to be consulted before farmers chop their corn for silage or stop taking steps that reduce damage, such as not irrigating or not spraying to control insects. Murphy emphasizes that good communication is the key.
Congress is beginning to get really worried about the automatic budget cuts (officially termed “the sequester”) that are set to start at the beginning of next year.
According to the budget law agreed to last summer, spending will be reduced by $109 billion in 2013; with half of the cuts to defense and half to domestic spending programs. Defense Secretary Panetta has said the cuts would be devastating for the military. The two political parties and the executive branch and the legislative branches of government all have very different views on what to do, however. So it is not very promising that an agreement can be reached before the automatic cuts kick in.