Cuts to farm conservation programs are likely, but the level of reductions is still unknown.
Markup of a new U.S. farm bill that would replace direct cash payments to farmers with crop insurance has been postponed, a Senate committee chairwoman said.
No new date for a markup has been announced for the bill before the Senate Agriculture Committee, The Hill reported.
"The Agriculture Committee has made significant progress and have bipartisan agreement on the bulk of the farm bill," committee Chairwoman Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., said in a statement.
"We are committed to continuing to work together in a bipartisan way as we come to agreement on a few outstanding issues. This is a bill that impacts 16 million jobs and a huge sector of America's economy, and it is important that we move prudently to create the best possible product."
The Hill said rice, peanut and cotton growers had asked this week the markup be delayed until mid-May.
Within the commodity title itself, about $50.2 billion would be saved by repealing current subsidies, chiefly the cash payments. From these savings, $28.8 billion would then be invested in a novel revenue insurance program that would give farmers added protection against “shallow losses” — not covered now by traditional crop insurance, according to Politico.
The new approach is most popular in the Midwest Corn Belt, and Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.), who is close to wheat and crop insurance interests, is supportive as well. But Southern crops, which typically benefit more from the current cash payments, have more to lose. And in the case of rice and peanuts, these growers are less enamored with various revenue insurance products.
“They are not going to satisfy peanuts and rice. … It’s just not a safety net,” Sen. Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.) told Politico. “A producer who lost all his crop will get a minimal payment, while the folks in the Midwest are going to be getting a significant return on their investment.”
“To get my support,” said Sen. John Boozman (R-Ark.), “there’s going to have to be some compromise.”
Conservation programs administered by the USDA and NRCS could be on the block. The current proposal brought out by Sens. Stabenow and Roberts would cut the number of programs from 23 to 13.
The most recent proposal calls for a 10% cut — approximately $6 billion over 10 years — to Title II Farm Bill Programs, says the National Association of Conservation Districts.
The NACD said it's been working closely with the Senate Agriculture Committee and has seen Farm Bill text that protects critical conservation program funding and supports program consolidation for increased efficiency and ease of use for producers.
“We fully recognize the need to get our nation’s financial house in order, and we understand that means cuts to Farm Bill programs,” said NACD President Gene Schmidt. “We’re extremely pleased that committee leadership has come up with a strong, balanced plan that fairly recognizes the critical value of locally-led conservation at the landscape scale.”
American Farmland Trust says it's committed to making sure changes to the conservation titles in the next farm bill continue to provide functional programs for America’s farmers, reported Carrie Muehling of WJBC Radio in Illinois.
“I think everybody understands that nothing is going to be immune from cuts. Certainly conservation programs are going to experience some of that,” said Jon Scholl, an Illinois native who serves as president of AFT. “We want to make sure that as those cuts are made, that they’re done in a way that we do still target the dollars we have to the most critical areas, to the most critical needs.”