Congressional hearing held on farm bill

Published 6:37 am Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Macon, Ga.—Georgia Farm Bureau President Zippy Duvall and GFB Peanut Advisory Committee member Andy Bell were among the Georgia farmers who testified at the farm bill hearing held by the U.S. House Agriculture Committee in Morrow, Ga., May 14.

“In Georgia, agriculture creates one out of every seven jobs so, a sound U.S. farm policy is essential for an economically viable agriculture system to feed and clothe our country,” Duvall said. “Georgia Farm Bureau believes effective farm policy should be market oriented and promote the production of quality products to meet market demand. Effective farm policy must also provide a safety net for farmers when markets or weather cause harm.”

Duvall testified that, overall, the 2008 Farm Bill is working well for Georgia farmers, saying, “Georgia’s cotton and peanut farmers fundamentally support the current program of direct and counter-cyclical payments provided by the current farm bill. Farmers and lenders understand these programs.”

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Bell expounded on this in his testimony saying, “Farmers need downside price protection against extreme low prices. The marketing loan program is a must for all program crops. All crop production on a farm should remain eligible for the marketing loan.”

Duvall asked that Congress consider revising the permanent disaster program included in the current farm bill, explaining that the Supplemental Revenue Assistance Program (SURE) doesn’t work well for most Georgia farmers because of the diversity of crops they grow.

“If a farmer grows only one crop and has a total loss he qualifies for the program, but a farmer with multiple crops who has a total loss on only one crop doesn’t qualify. For Georgia another type of permanent disaster program would be better.”

Bell testified that improvements need to be made to the federal crop insurance program in the next farm bill saying, “Insurance coverage above the 70 to 75 percent level is simply not affordable. Crop insurance must remain affordable for it to be a useful tool in today’s agriculture.”

Duvall encouraged Congress to take measures to ensure proposed agribusiness mergers and vertical integration arrangements don’t hamper farmers’ access to inputs and markets.

“Producers impacted by unfair marketing practices should be compensated when harmed by monopolistic practices,” Duvall said. “We aren’t opposed to the continued use of production contracts so long as producers have meaningful input in the process of negotiating contracts.”

Duvall testified to the success of conservation programs included in the current farm bill such as the Conservation Reserve Program and the Environmental Quality Incentive Program. He encouraged Congress to allocate more funds to these programs so that more farmers can participate and asked the committee to support federal funding of producer incentives for water conservation, including the construction, repair and maintenance of farm ponds to water livestock and crops in times of drought.

Duvall also encouraged Congress to include provisions in the next farm bill that motivate young people to enter production agriculture.

“There is one thing we need to do—encourage young people graduating from our agriculture schools to return to the land. If we don’t succeed in getting them to return to the farm and engage in production agriculture we will lose agriculture.”

Less money

Congressmen from both sides of the aisle speaking at the farm bill hearing repeatedly warned there will be less federal funds available for the 2012 Farm Bill than there were for the 2008 bill.

“We’re not going to have any more money for the next farm bill. We’re going to have less money. It’s not going to be easy because someone is going to have to give up something,” said House Agriculture Committee Chairman Collin Peterson D-Minn. “Maybe it’s time we’re going to have different programs for different crops. We’ve got to think outside the box. Are we spending our money the best way? That’s why I’m starting these hearings so early.”

Peterson also called for simplifying the farm program, saying, “I think we’re making this [the farm program] way too complicated. We keep adding new programs to what we’re doing. My goal is to simplify them.”

Peterson was joined by fellow Democratic committee members from Georgia, Reps. David Scott (13th District) and Jim Marshall (8th District); Bobby Bright (D-Ala.) and Ranking Minority Member Bob Goodlatte of Virginia and his fellow Republicans Mike Rogers of Alabama; Adrian Smith of Nebraska and Glenn Thompson of Pennsylvania. Rep. Sanford Bishop (D-2nd District of Georgia) participated as a member of the House Appropriations Committee.

Other Georgia farmers testifying at the hearing included Southern Cotton Growers Inc. Director Ronnie Lee, Georgia Fruit and Vegetable Growers Association First Vice President Dick Minor, Georgia Peanut Commission Chairman Armond Morris, Georgia Pecan Producers Association Past President Hilton Segler and Ricky Williams, member of the USDA Dairy Advisory Committee.

When Rep. Bishop asked the farmers to explain how further restricting farm program payment limits would impact their operations, Bell explained that southern agriculture has higher production costs than other regions of the country due to the diversity of southern farms.

“I think the payment limit is about right for us. It doesn’t need to be any tighter. We have to have a separate harvester for each crop. Peanuts and cotton have their own set of tillage and harvest equipment. Grain farmers are required to have even another set of equipment. This specialized equipment is very expensive to own and maintain. Our costs quickly escalate as we produce these various crops.”

Representatives of Georgia universities and the Georgia Forestry Commission also testified during the hearing regarding the need for funding for crop research and the Biomass Crop Assistance Program included in the 2008 Farm Bill.

UGA College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences Dean and Director Scott Angle, Interim Dean of the Fort Valley State College of Agriculture Mark Latimore Jr., Georgia Tech Institute Food Processing Technology Division Chief Greg McMurray and Georgia Forestry Commission Director Robert Farris made up the second panel.

Angle told the panel that land-grant institutions like UGA depend on funding through three sources—competitive funding through the USDA, congressional earmarks and the distribution of federal dollars through formula funds.

“Federal earmarks remain the only process for supporting vital agricultural research that falls between the cracks of the high-minded studies supported by the National Science Foundation, USDA research and profit-driven research that private companies might support,” Angle said. “Changes are needed to make the process more transparent, but I remain adamant that earmark-supported research is vital to the success of our farming community. More transparency, limited high level peer review and greater accountability may allow a skeptical public greater comfort with the process.”

Founded in 1937, Georgia Farm Bureau is the largest general farm organization in the state. Its volunteer members actively participate in local, district and state activities that promote agriculture awareness to their non-farming neighbors. GFB also has 20 commodity advisory committees that give the organization input on issues pertinent to the major commodities grown in Georgia.