Crop insurance controversies
By Seymour Klierly
From the very first field hearing to the latest floor action, crop insurance has been a kingpin for the upcoming farm bill. Under the banner of reform, the Agriculture Committees crafted the latest iteration of the farm bill without direct payments and elevated the crop insurance program as a major component of the farm safety net. In response, conservative deficit hawks and liberal environmental groups have teamed up to attack the crop insurance and have already landed a few hits in the armor.
In 2012, Sen. Saxby Chambliss, R-GA, offered a floor amendment linking participation in the federal crop insurance program to conservation compliance which squeaked by a vote of 52 to 47. After the vote, the National Corn Growers Association released a statement saying, “Our members have spent a significant amount of time discussing this issue and feel this addition to the farm bill would have a negative impact toward America’s farmers.”
Fast forward to 2013, Chairwoman Stabenow worked out an agreement among farm and conservation groups to improve the conservation compliance language and fight against adjusted gross income limits for crop insurance. “This is an example of something that’s all too rare in Washington these days: People on both sides of this very difficult issue sat down together, put it all on the table, and figured out a way to make this policy work to protect our soil and water resources for generations to come,” said Stabenow.
American Farm Bureau Federation President Bob Stallman agreed, “We believe that the bipartisan compromise to oppose means testing, payment limitations or premium subsidy reductions for the crop insurance program and to formalize a tie between crop insurance and conservation compliance helped set the tone of cooperation for this bill moving forward.”
However on the Senate floor even with the coalition opposing the AGI test, an amendment sponsored by Sens. Dick Durbin, D-IL, and Tom Coburn, R-OK, passed 59 to 33. The amendment reduces premium support on crop insurance by 15 percent for farmers with an AGI over $750,000.
Now the agreement with Stabenow to support conservation compliance is raveling. American Farm Bureau Federation Director of Congressional Affairs Mary Kay Thatcher explained in October the organization’s new position. “Because of the AFBF Board’s concerns regarding the impacts of the means testing provision and standing policy on the compliance issue, they decided that we could no longer support the agreement on compliance with crop insurance.”
The latest blow against crop insurance came right before the House appointed conferees. Budget Committee Chairman Paul Ryan, R-OH, sponsored a nonbinding “sense of the House” resolution, supporting a $750,000 adjusted gross income limit. Although Chairman Frank Lucas, R-OK, said higher premiums could drive away large operators and, with a smaller pool of participants, drive up costs for smaller operators, the House passed the resolution by voice vote. Crop insurance advocates on the Conference Committee will have their hands full protecting the program from new AGI and compliance restrictions.
Editor’s note: Seymour Klierly writes Washington Whispers for the Journal from inside the Beltway.