The passage of the nearly $1 trillion five-year farm bill last month may be a long-awaited milestone for the nation’s ag producers, but local agencies and farmers believe it is too early to comment without understanding its content.
Jeff Shaner of Neale Farms Inc., Fort Calhoun, said he isn’t educated yet about the bill’s specifics, but he is in support of one of its biggest changes — ending guaranteed subsidies to farmers regardless of their harvest quality or crop payments.
“In a free-market society, we don’t need the government propping us up,” Shaner said.
Nebraska ranked five out of 50 states in subsidies — also called “direct payments” — from 1995 to 2012, according to a report by the Environmental Working Group. Twenty-seven percent of Nebraskan farms did not collect direct payments, but 10 percent collected 65 percent of all subsidies.
Washington County ag producers collected $143 million in direct payments during that time period.
Johanns: Bill a ‘hard-fought compromise’
U.S. Sen. Mike Johanns, R-Neb., said the passage of a farm bill will give ag producers the risk management tools and certainty they need.
“Reaching a consensus on this farm bill has been a long time in the making, but we can finally tell our ag producers that they will have the risk management tools they need,” Johanns said. “I would have preferred stronger payment limits and a movement away from target prices, but progress was made on those fronts. Progress was also made to reform and streamline conservation programs, something I backed as secretary, and to end direct payments that paid farmers no matter what.
“At the end of the day, this constitutes a hard-fought compromise, and while no one got everything they wanted, this bill warrants our support,” said Johanns, who serves on the Senate Agriculture Committee and served as the Department of Agriculture secretary under President George W. Bush.
Key provisions of the farm bill, in addition to the elimination of direct payments, include export promotion programs; improvements to the federal crop insurance program; a partnership of conservation compliance with crop insurance coverage; and options for farmers to participate in the revenue-based agriculture risk coverage program or price-loss coverage program with fixed reference prices.
The Nebraska Corn Board applauded the bill’s passage.
“It has been a long time coming, but we are pleased that common sense, compromise and valid concerns finally resulted in a bill that allows Nebraska farmers and ranchers to know what role the federal government will have in their industry,” said Tim Scheer, a farmer from St. Paul and chairman of the Nebraska Corn Board. “Farmers needed to know that programs like foreign market development and market access programs were going to be funded so we can promote our commodities around the world, which is a public/private partnership of USDA funds and checkoff dollars that come from farmers and livestock industry pockets.
“The passage of this bill comes at a critical time — cattle numbers are at a 63-year low; last-year exports of corn were at a low we have not seen in decades; corn prices are at or below cost of production and, if that’s not enough, EPA wants to lower the Renewable Fuel Standard of conventional ethanol,” Scheer said.
Novozymes in support of biomass initiatives
Novozymes, which has an enzymes plant in Blair’s biorefinery campus, released a statement supporting the bill’s promotion of domestic energy.
“America’s farmers are core to the innovation that’s driven down our dependence on foreign oil – and this policy will help keep them doing it,” said Adam Monroe, Novozymes regional president of the Americas. “There’s already enough concern about energy policy in America with EPA’s proposed revisions to the Renewable Fuel Standard. It’s a powerful sign to see policy certainty surrounding the energy programs in the farm bill. We thank Congress for taking action and we urge President Obama to swiftly sign it.”
Among the bill’s biomass initiatives for the next five years are:
• Bio-based markets — $3 million per year
• Biomass research and development — $3 million per year
• Biorefinery, renewable chemical and bio-based product manufacturing assistance program — $100 million in 2014, $50 million in 2015-16
• Biomass crop assistance program — $25 million per year
• Bioenergy for advanced biofuels — $15 million per year
The energy title funds USDA programs that help jump-start additional biorefinery construction for advanced biofuels and renewable chemicals, dedicated energy crop feedstock development and consumer demand of bio-based products — all encouraging further commercialization of the renewable industry. Eleven-hundred growers in 12 states plant 53,000 underutilized acres of new energy crops a year with assistance from the biomass crop assistance program, according to the USDA.
Neb. Farmers Union applauds
The Nebraska Farmers Union (NeFU) said the farm bill brings an estimated $7 billion in benefits for livestock producers in EQIP funding, livestock indemnity programs, livestock forage programs and export assistance programs.
“As an organization that represents livestock producers, NeFU is in strong support of this farm bill and its rancher-friendly provisions,” NeFU President John Hansen said. “To do otherwise would not be responsible.”
Some of the livestock provisions include:
• Permanent authority for livestock disaster programs that provide an emergency safety net for producers from natural disasters
• Retroactive payments for producers who suffered losses after the previous program expired in October 2011
• Authorization of regional conservation partnership program and environmental quality incentives program funding that can be used by farmers and ranchers to comply with environmental regulations
• Two million acres set aside for conservation reserve program (CRP) for grazing lands to help ranchers conserve land and retain economic benefits
• Eliminates rental rate reductions for beginning farmers who graze livestock on CRP acres so they can utilize CRP acres without penalty