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Few Congressional Revisions of 2014 Farm Bill Expected


The next time Congress looks at how taxpayers support farmers, there isn’t likely to be many major revisions to the ideas enacted in 2014 to use recent commodity prices to determine if producers deserve a subsidy, U.S. Rep. Vicky Hartzler said Wednesday.

Speaking to about 150 agriculture experts, academics and farmers at the Bradford Research Farm, Hartzler said the House Agriculture Committee has a goal of sending a bill to the Senate by early 2018. That ambitious schedule would be well ahead of the five-year expiration of the current program, enacted three years late in 2014.

That bill did away with direct payments in favor of programs that covered the risk of raising crops in years with falling prices. Farmers could either choose to protect their revenue — a combination of yield and price — or just protect themselves against falling prices.

Coupled with crop insurance, the idea was to tie farmers more closely to the market. In her comments, Hartzler said it had accomplished that goal.

“I expect to see some tweaking of some of the current programs,” she said. “Four years ago, it was pretty major — we did away with direct payments.”

Since the enactment of the farm bill, Boone County farmers have received payments for barley for 2014 and all included crops except barley and sunflower seeds in 2015. Full data is not in, but the price and yield levels for 2016, with prices down but yields high, mean no local payments for corn or soybeans.

The 2014 farm bill cost $5.3 billion for commodity supports in fiscal 2014 and $7.8 billion for fiscal 2015, according to U.S. Department of Agriculture figures. In Missouri, payments were $37 million in fiscal 2014 and $254.5 million in fiscal 2015. Payments for 2016 are being delivered this month.

The farm bill also authorizes nutrition programs, including the SNAP program, which cost $70.9 billion in fiscal 2016, and school nutrition, at a cost of $17.8 billion.

The Farm Bill Summit, an all-day meeting with seminars on grain crops, livestock and other issues, was sponsored by the university, bringing together extension and the College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources. Pat Westhoff, director of the Food and Agriculture Policy Research Institute, said commodity supports have cost more than expected when the bill was enacted but that crop insurance has cost less because of several good years.

The way the bill distributes money has not changed the trend of agriculture to larger operations, Westhoff said. He agreed with Hartzler that few major changes are likely in the way programs are currently designed.

“If you would leave this up to the committees in Congress, they would write a farm bill that would do something about cotton, something about dairy, and make minor changes around the edges on everything else,” Westhoff said.

During remarks recorded on video, Sen. Roy Blunt, R-Mo., said the increasing world food demand means farm products, already a major export, will become more important.

President Trump is pushing for revisions to the North American Free Trade Agreement, which makes U.S. agriculture exports very attractive in Mexico and Canada.

“We need to help define further the role the Department of Agriculture will play in trade agreements and facilitating those agreements,” Blunt said.

Missouri exports large quantities of corn, soybeans, beef and pork to Mexico, Westhoff said. Those exports could be endangered if the trade agreement is broken and Mexico or Canada puts retaliatory barriers in place, he said.

If negotiators stick to areas of current problems, like getting dairy into Canada or dealing with exports of fresh fruits and vegetables, Missouri farmers should see little impact, Westhoff said.

Commodity prices have fallen from historic highs at or just before the enactment of the 2014 bill. The current program uses rolling five-year averages of prices and yields to determine if payments are due. For major commodities, those averages are well above current market prices — soybeans set at almost $12 a bushel while farmers were receiving $9.41 in August.

“The key to the farm bill is to provide an effective safety net for when times get tough or things don’t work out exactly as we would like them to be,” Blunt said.

Source: Rudi Keller, Columbia Tribune

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