KFB expresses concerns to Senate Ag Committee
By Kylene Scott
In mid-March, members of the Kansas Farm Bureau County Presidents Trip visited with Ben Mosely, senior professional staff with the U.S. Senate Committee for Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry. Those in the meeting were concerned with crop insurance, conservation issues and the budget.
Kansas Farm Bureau Vice President Richard Felts expressed his appreciation for the opportunity to meet with Mosely as well as an opportunity to be allies, especially with the upcoming work on the farm bill.
“We feel like that your group is a good group to be allies with because we know that the Senate Ag Committee did come up with a very workable plan—a bipartisan plan that will get past the Senate,” Felts said. “I would hope to think that the same individuals that supported it last time could recognize the financial constraints and go forward from there.”
Mosely said it is an interesting time to be in Washington, especially with the pending budget approval. Voting and debate on the measures took place during the same days the KFB members were in town during the week of March 18 to 22.
The ag committee is also facing a transition with its new leader, Sen. Thad Cochran.
“We are still in an organizing phase of staffing up and getting our act together,” Mosely said. “We’re going to open it back up this year. We don’t have any firm dates or policy down on paper. We certainly have a bill from last year to look at and work from. Sen. Cochran does have some tweaks that he’d like to make so we’re not going to reinvent the wheel but we’d definitely like to open a few items and take a closer look.”
Felts noted regret that Sen. Pat Roberts had to move on from the ag committee, and the loss of the experience and knowledge of Midwestern agriculture. However, Mosely said he personally will work on crop insurance issues since he has a background in conservation, soils and other areas of agriculture. He was raised on a cotton and peanut farm in Georgia.
“We appreciate somebody like you being in there and saying you work with crop insurance,” Felts said. “I think it hits a real tender chord we have somebody that’s supportive of that.”
Mosely said crop insurance will have a target on its back at some point, but after the drought of the past several years, it is a needed program for farmers. The committee is working to gather input from commodity groups, the Farm Bureau and other farm organizations.
“(We’re) happy to hear your priorities, and thanks for sending them along in advance—and is the case with most groups is crop insurance is number one,” Mosely said. “We want to strengthen the effort with crop insurance. Certainly with the drought of last year, and indemnities being paid out the conservatives and the critics of farm programs and crop insurance have their eyes on it.”
KFB 9th District Director Jim Sipes agreed with the bull’s-eye on crop insurance, as well as one on indemnity payments. He suggested lawmakers look at the history of the revenues taken in from those programs and see how it balances out.
Sipes asked when the work would begin on the farm bill, and Mosely said Sen. Debbie Stabenow has indicated sooner rather than later. Once the budget hurdles are overcome, work should begin.
“The ag committee needs to have a product ready for floor time as soon as possible. Summer is going to hit you up pretty fast,” Mosely said. “When you try to think about immigration, gun control, and all these other priorities that the administration want on the floor, there’s going to be a week or two lull somewhere in there that we need to have a product ready.”
Mosely said members of the committee are gathering information and in the next several weeks will start moving in the direction needed.
“A firm time frame hasn’t been agreed to or put down on paper but Stabenow has said April/May is what she’s aiming for,” Mosely said. “I think that’s a good goal to have. There is a two- or three-day opportunity for us on the floor to have something ready to go.”
News sources began reporting April 19 that House Ag Committee Chair Frank Lucas plans to move ahead with markup of the farm bill on May 15. The current one-year extension of the 2008 farm bill expires Sept. 30.
Felts said, as an organization, KFB is still in favor of the Conservation Reserve Program.
“CRP has been a great program—a good program, but as we go forward (we) need to caution against some of those nonproductive programs and invest money in programs that just have a productive result,” Felts said.
Sipes said another concern of the elimination of the CRP program and the effect it will have on the habitat for the lesser prairie-chicken.
“Part of the reason they are considering that listing is because of the planned reduction in CRP program and habitat area,” Sipes said. “Any further reduction in that will probably come in with that species being listed, and so we’ll probably be pushing to try to maintain CRP levels to just to keep us from having another endangered species.”
Mosely recognized the wildlife impact as well as the monetary impact of the proposed reduction.
“That’s a delicate balance we’re all facing is you’ve got this 32 million acre cap as it stands in CRP,” Mosely said. “If you took it down to 25, that’s a huge chunk of money that you can use to contribute to production and crop insurance and alleviate some of the pains that we’re going to have giving up—direct payment reform or whatever.”
Budgets and where the money is going to come from seem to be a constant battle, and Felts said the fact that ag and defense take the lion’s share is not good. Mosely agreed.
“When markets are good and farmers are doing good, everybody’s saying you don’t need the help,” Mosely said. “If we do pull the rug out from under you now, you’re going to be back here begging, you know, hurting. Farms are going to be shutting down left and right.”
Mosely said other groups are going to be pushing for ad hoc disaster payments, but that takes time—two or three years to get across the floor if it makes it there.
“So that’s why we think crop insurance is the primary safety net for many reasons. (It’s a) problem solver,” Mosely said. “Payments come out quick surprisingly in their delivery. This is a success story. That’s where we’re going to have our focus. Again, there are some Title I things that we need to get overages paid for. We have to work on those.”
Felts said even as near and dear as crop insurance is to the farm bill, losing entitlements is a different ball game. Mosely said it is a concern as well.
“We want to be inclusive. I can’t say it enough, the farm bill is about what you need in bad times,” he said. “Everybody’s going to get something out of this farm bill and that’s an important matter. Whether you oppose one thing or another, that’s what compromise is about.”
Kylene Scott can be reached by phone at 620-227-1804 or by email at email@example.com.