Farmers, policymakers ponder farm bill
FARGO, N.D. -- Farmers have been most surprised about two things when attending July informational meetings in North Dakota about the 2012 farm bill -- the federal subsidy for crop insurance and the sheer amount of federal outlays for agricultura...
FARGO, N.D. -- Farmers have been most surprised about two things when attending July informational meetings in North Dakota about the 2012 farm bill -- the federal subsidy for crop insurance and the sheer amount of federal outlays for agricultural programs in the state.
Robert Carlson, president of the North Dakota Farmers Union, says a total of 190 people attended the first three of six "brats, burgers and questions" sessions in the North Dakota towns of Ross, Beulah and Carrington recently. The meetings are sponsored by the organization. The state Farmers Union has a tradition of offering these kinds of discussions, sometimes featuring the national president or an agricultural economist.
This year's presentations are different in that they kicked off with Aaron Krauter, state Farm Service Agency director, offering a summary of the financial impact of federal payments in the state in recent years. Krauter noted that farm programs in the 2010 fiscal year totaled nearly $1 billion for the state of North Dakota -- including direct, counter-cyclical, disaster and Conservation Reserve Program payments. Krauter added that the federal government subsidizes 68 percent of the cost of crop insurance programs.
Both figures seem to have surprised farmers attending the meetings, Carlson says.
This year's sessions are unusual, Carlson says, because of appearances by all three congressional members -- Scott Stofferahn, state director for Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D., as well as Shane Goettle, state director for Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., and Tom Nelson, from the staff of Rep. Rick Berg, R-N.D.
Carlson says the delegation members from the Senate are more specific about their priorities so far, partly because their leadership is planning work on the bill yet this fall while the House of Representatives isn't expected to tackle it until next year. All say the new farm bill likely won't have the same money as the 2008 farm bill.
While it isn't clear how representative the meeting-goers in the state are of the farm population in general, Carlson says all offered a similar theme.
"Crop insurance always seems to be the most important feature they want to see continued," he says. "Permanent disaster provisions -- SURE (Supplemental Revenue Assistance) for crops and the Livestock Indemnity Programs for livestock.
"When we talk about direct payments, a lot of producers say they'd be willing to give that if up if the money would be used to fund a permanent disaster program going forward. They were unanimous on that in Ross," Carlson said en route to a meeting in Cavalier, N.D.
Besides that theme, comments have been wide-ranging. One producer in Carrington said he is against a "flat tax" on income because it could take away rapid asset depreciation on farm equipment. Other producers said they'd like education programs to let consumers know "how important agriculture is to their food supply and national security."
Carlson, speaking only for himself, says he's pessimistic about the prospects of passing a farm bill before the 2012 presidential elections.
He says Congress seems in a gridlock over extending the deficit cap and either cutting expenditures or raising taxes.
"The only thing that seems to get done is to go nowhere," he says. "Compared to the 2008 farm bill, we're behind schedule," he says. He says he doubts there would be an extension of the current bill and instead expects "some kind of imaginative action."