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Corn, sorghum groups meet at farm bill's end

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By Larry Dreiling

What do you do at a meeting when you’ve done all the arguing over a topic you can?

What happens when a subject has played itself out and nothing more can be said?

When your group is the National Corn Growers Association or the National Sorghum Producers and the farm bill you’ve been fighting for is settled law, you learn how the bill will work for you.

The groups, meeting during the recent Commodity Classic at San Antonio, Texas, had fairly brief policy-oriented sessions before entering into work on association management issues.

For example, NCGA members voted to clean up their formal resolution book, removing several old resolutions pertaining to the desire for things to be included in a new farm bill as well discarding items about reform of programs in effect during the previous farm bill but are now history.

What time was spent on farm bill issues depended on what meeting you attended. At the NCGA Corn Congress, Deputy Secretary of Agriculture Krysta Harden spoke to the group. It was reported in several different media outlets that Harden told NCGA that U.S. Department of Agriculture staff has been getting ready to implement the Agricultural Act of 2014 for some time.

“We have been preparing for this, getting ready for the things that will be coming at us,” Harden said.

“This process is going to be done in a careful, systematic way,” Harden reportedly told NCGA. “I want to make sure that as we look at this farm bill…that it is implemented in a way that makes sense to all of you.”

At NSP, members heard from Bart Fischer, chief economist from the House Agriculture Committee, who discussed the series of choices farmers now have in crop insurance as permitted by the new farm bill.

“It’s more complicated, yes,” Fischer said. “But it’s certainly better than Washington making the choice for you and giving you no options.”

The choice is a multi-year approach of a traditional countercyclical payment with a sorghum reference price of $3.95 per bushel or a shallow loss program.

“One of the comments I get is this is so complicated,” Fischer said. “My mantra is that it’s as complicated as you want it to be. It’s complicated because all the decisions are left to you the grower.

“If you want simplicity, you walk into the FSA (Farm Service Agency) office, sign up for price protection, take the updated countercyclical payment, and go home. Or you could sign up for Agricultural Risk Coverage, or you could mix or match. It’s complicated by design, but it leaves you with added flexibility.”

Giving up direct payments was a “big deal,” Fischer said, but the programs left behind offer a robust safety net and offers certainty.

“We also heard the resounding remark of do no harm to crop insurance. Our perspective is that Title I payments are to be a complement to crop insurance,” Fischer said. “It’s a good message when prices are high, but what if when they’re in the tank. Sorghum was clear that both these programs were important parts of the safety net.”

Included in those choices are new plans for irrigated and dryland crops, division of crops into separate enterprise units and a supplemental coverage option that could cover up to 86 percent of full indemnification.

“You can still have individual policy, shift some of the risk out to the county average and have a significantly higher coverage level,” Fischer said.

Larry Dreiling can be reached by phone at 785-628-1117 or by email at ldreiling@aol.com.

Date: 3/17/2014



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