Ag News -
State Ag News
Friday, 20 April 2012 11:45
By Amy Bickel - The Hutchinson News -
DODGE CITY – In an area hit hard by drought last year, plains farmers echoed to three members of the House Agricultural Committee on Friday what many in the Farm Belt have relayed – make sure the new Farm Bill has crop insurance as its backbone.
“In today’s business environment, we cannot afford to stumble,” testified fourth-generation Little River farmer Kendall Hodgson. “Our first priority should be to maintain a viable crop insurance program that covers not only single-year losses such as last year’s disastrous drought but also multiple years of low production.”
Hodgson was among 10 farmers – half from Kansas – who testified during a Farm Bill field hearing in Dodge City on Friday morning. They addressed an assortment of issues to Chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., and members Michael Conaway, R-Texas, and Big First Republican Tim Huelskamp.
It is the final field hearing before Lucas and his committee continue its work in Washington in April and May.
The current Farm Bill expires Sept. 30.
About every five years, Congress works on a farm bill - just as it has done for the past eight decades. It started with Franklin Roosevelt, who during the Great Depression signed the first farm bill into law.
But unlike the 1930s program, the legislation enacted in 2008 only dedicated 15 percent of its allocation to commodities and 8 percent to crop insurance, with much of what remains going to food and nutrition programs like food stamps.
Even the commodity title is changing. More than likely, Congressional leaders say, direct payments are gone. Even programs like the Conservation Reserve Enhancement Program could be cut.
Still, farmers rely on the program, especially as a risk management tool. Producer Keith Miller, who grows a variety of commodities and has cattle on 7,500 acres in Barton County, said without crop insurance, he wouldn’t be farming today – especially after the 2011 drought nearly wiped out his crops.
Many of his wheat fields averaged 12 bushels an acre, and drought cut his irrigated corn yields by 30 percent. Dryland corn did so poorly that he turned it into silage for his cattle, which was needed with feed supplies like hay and pasture diminished from the drought.
“I had close to a quarter of a million dollars worth of losses that crop insurance paid me for,” he said. “Now my losses were a lot more than that – but we actually collected on every crop on the entire farm.”
Crop insurance suggestions
Kansas farmers made suggestions on how a crop insurance program should work.
Miller said crop insurance should have a limited irrigation insurance product. At present, farmers either declare acres irrigated or dryland. An irrigated designation, he said implies that there is adequate water to produce the crop but also requires planting at higher population rates.
However, last year, he noted that some farmers had to keep watering their crop despite adjusters telling them it was a total loss because of current crop insurance guidelines.
Besides saving on water during drought years, it also helps producers with declining water supplies to plant lower populations and set a lower yield goal while maintaining insurance coverage at better than dryland levels.
Farmers also lobbied for various programs, including continuation of an energy title, a strengthened conservation title and more emphasis on research. But some, including Miller, made a plea that neither conservation requirements nor payment limits be tied to crop insurance.
“Please keep crop insurance tools purchased by the producer protected from environmental compliance requirements or other payment limit conditions that do not belong tied to insurance,” Ford County farmer Gary Harshberger said in his testimony, adding later that “ A farm bill should provide assistance when producers suffer losses beyond their control. I need a simple program to take to my banker in case my operation suffers a disaster.”
Larned-area farmer Tom Giessel promoted a market-driven inventory system. Such a program would moderate extreme volatility in the commodity markets while allowing farmers to receive their income from the marketplace rather than from government payments.
Between 1998 and 2010, according to research by the University of Tennessee’s Agricultural Policy Analysis Center, which under the leadership of Daryll Ray, developed the program, farmers would have received just $56.4 billion in government payments instead of the $152.2 billion they received.
Texas cotton grower Woody Anderson told committee members that he supported the Stacked Income Protection Plan, which is a revenue-based crop insurance safety net that would satisfy the World Trade Organization.
Rep. Tim Huelskamp, R-Kansas, who serves on the ag committee and one of a dozen farmers represented in the House, noted he grew up working on his family’s farm just down the road near Fowler.
A proponent of adding a farm bill title that addresses what he calls burdensome farm regulations, he asked Zach Hunnicut, a fifth-generation farmer from Nebraska, how a change in child labor laws would affect his operation.
Proposed Department of Labor rules would prohibit most children under age 16 from driving tractors, using power equipment and working with livestock in certain circumstances, along with other farm chores that are being targeted.
Preparing the fields for corn planting this spring, Hunnicut said he had his 4-year-old son with him in the tractor.
“He is up on a big tractor in a closed cab and he is safer there than in a vehicle,” Hunnicut said, but noted he wouldn’t be able to spend that time with his son if the regulations passed.
“My Social Security statement goes back to 5 years old – walking the soybeans fields,” he said, adding that the DOL’s plan “is a sledgehammer to kill a mosquito.”
Comments can still be submitted for consideration of the House Agricultural Committee's Farm Bill field hearing record. Visit www.agriculture.house.gov/farmbill for more information on submitting comments.
Comments, category: "State Ag News"
Copyright © 2013 Kansas Ag Land. All Rights Reserved.
You need to upgrade your Flash Player