By Dan Glickman

U.S. Secretary of Agriculture

The Clinton Administration, as part of its new proposed budget, has put forward some new ideas to shore up the farm safety net and help farmers beyond what is provided by existing programs.

The 1996 farm bill brought dramatic changes to this nation's farm programs, including some sound provisions, like a greater emphasis on conservation and more planting flexibility. But in overhauling 60 years of national farm policy, Congress left behind an inadequate safety net, putting farmers at risk and giving them little to fall back on.

Then, over the last two years, and now going on a third, farmers have been coping with plunging commodity prices, natural disasters and a worldwide glut in production.

Rather than waiting to throw together yet another hasty and expensive emergency relief package later this year, we have instead decided to offer some new ideas, which can lay the groundwork for new farm legislation in 2002. But let me be clear: For now, we are not proposing to rewrite the current farm bill--we want to enhance it.

Our plan calls for $11 billion in new investments over the next two years to build a broader-based farm policy, one that is more national in scope, includes more farmers and ranchers, is targeted to actual production, helps those most with the greatest need and treats our natural resources as valuable commodities.

The proposal has four major components.

First, it includes income support that is targeted and countercyclical. Payments would kick in when incomes drop, and they would go to farmers--not landlords--who are hardest hit. All but 2% of current Agriculture Market Transition Act participants would be eligible for these payments, which would be in addition to existing AMTA and loan rate payment programs, up to a payment limit.

We also are proposing extension of the dairy price support program through the life of the current farm bill, as well as a freeze on loan rates for wheat, corn, soybeans, rice and cotton for the 2000 crop. And we are instituting a new, on-farm storage program to give farmers greater marketing flexibility.

Second, the proposal offers increased conservation assistance, including a program that would provide payments to farmers who undertake practices that help curb erosion and protect water supplies from pesticide and nutrient runoff. This Conservation Security Program would extend eligibility for conservation payments to more farmers, in more areas, growing more crops. In addition to this new effort, we also are proposing an expansion of current conservation programs.

Third, the budget includes more risk management tools. We would extend the premium discount on crop insurance and give farmers the option to buy multi-year coverage, just as any other business can. We also are proposing a pilot livestock insurance program, and we want to make it easier for farmers of non-insured crops to get the help they need when disaster strikes.

Fourth, we want to help farmers find new markets and get a larger share of each consumer dollar spent on food. So, we are proposing $130 million to help develop farm cooperatives and help livestock co-ops build more processing facilities. A proposed $150 million investment would encourage the conversion of more agricultural goods into renewable energy sources. And for the third year in a row, we also are asking for the flexibility to redirect unused Export Enhancement Program funds into trade supporting initiatives, like the Market Access Program and international food aid efforts.

Taken together, I believe these ideas and proposals--on top of the many things we are doing--are a strong foundation for a new farm safety net, which would fit within the context of a fiscally responsible balanced budget.

Arriving at these ideas was not easy. In fact, it was very difficult, and some of the details remain quite complex. But what we are doing is setting the stage for a meaningful dialogue--the end of which will be a farm policy that farmers can count on, in good times and in bad.

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