Direct payments and dairy supply management dominated the farm policy discussion at the American Farm Bureau Federation’s business meeting this morning.
An anticipated showdown over direct payments never really developed. By a comfortable margin, the delegates passed a resolution calling for “a strong and effective safety net that consists of direct payments, crop insurance and a simplified Average Crop Revenue Election (ACRE) program”.
Iowa Farm Bureau was one of the states that had suggested it was time to do away with direct payments and put more emphasis on crop insurance and the ACRE program. Most Southern states are in favor of retaining direct payments.
Even though direct payments are part of the policy language, Iowa Farm Bureau president Craig Lang says he was pleased with the outcome. “I’m happy with the way it turned out because it didn’t draw a line in the sand,” Lang says. “It said that we’re going to look at the farm bill, we’re going to be part of deficit reduction—but we’re going to provide a strong, effective safety net for our farmers to grow food, fuel and fiber from now and into the future.”
Illinois Farm Bureau president Phillip Nelson agrees. He says the policy will give the AFBF board of directors the flexibility to determine farm policy priorities based on farm bill and budget realities. “We’re going to have to interpret a lot of things,” Nelson says. “We’ve heard from (House Ag Committee) chairman (Frank) Lucas, and even Senator (Debbie) Stabenow, the chairman of the Senate Ag Committee—they’re looking to have more regional hearings—so this gives us the ability to put what we think is of great importance as we start these farm bill deliberations for 2012.”
Regarding dairy policy, the Farm Bureau delegates also voted to support a temporary supply management system for dairy. According to Iowa’s Lang, the language is similar to the policy being proposed by the National Milk Producers Federation.
Nebraska Farm Bureau president Keith Olsen says, at some point, farm programs and deficit reduction efforts will collide. “There’s a lot of concern how much money we’re going to have to work with,” Olsen says. “There’s so many areas in the farm bill that cover a lot of important areas for us–we’re talking about research, the commodity title, conservation title–a lot of these issues are very important to us and we’re going to have to sit down and find out what we’re talking about for money–and really prioritize what’s the most important thing we need to keep for agriculture.”
Indiana Farm Bureau President Don Villwock says they’re comfortable with the direct payment policy that’s been adopted,“I think it’s a win-win opportunity and we hope to work within the framework we have here today (Tuesday).”
And Villwock says the dairy policy is needed because dairy producers really need some relief, “They’re at below the cost of production so that sector is looking for relief. There are a lot of proposals on the table.”
Ohio Farm Bureau president Brent Porteus tells Brownfield the direct payment policy allows room for discussion. Certainly he says the ACRE program and direct payments are important to Ohio growers. “We need to make sure we’re able to evaluate and keep those best options depending upon what dollars end up being available,” says Porteus.
He says a lot does depend on the pressure on the federal budget, “Once they determine how many dollars are available, you know, the industry’s going to have to sort out which is more important for producers.”
And,Porteus says Ohio Farm Bureau supports the margin-type programs and a temporary supply management program that AFBF policy supports.
In Missouri, where more milk is consumed than is produced, American Farm Bureau action relating to dairy policy is very important to Missouri Farm Bureau President Blake Hurst. The Tarkio, Missouri farmer, elected to that state’s Farm Bureau presidency this past December, is pleased that delegates agreed to policy in line with what Missouri Farm Bureau delegates adopted last month.
“It adopts support of a margin insurance program,” Hurst told Brownfield, during a break in AFBF policy discussion Tuesday. “It allows for the possibility of mandatory production controls if that’s needed in order to make the margin insurance program workable.”
Missouri brings in milk from out of state in order to meet consumer demand. “I hope [the policy] stabilizes prices,” said Hurst. “We’ve lost so many dairy producers; I hope that we can save the ones we have and then grow our industry, and so it’s very important that we have some help.”
The action that led to AFBF adoption of policy in support of retaining direct payments in federal farm policy is seen as a compromise, according to Scott VanderWal, president of the South Dakota Farm Bureau.
“Yes, I would say it is somewhat of a compromise,” VanderWal said Tuesday, following policy adoption in Atlanta. “The safety net is the big issue. That’s the thing that we really have to focus on is the safety net that includes maybe some personal responsibility; you mix crop insurance in there relying on the government as little as we can to do it.”
VanderWal easily sees both sides of the direct payment issue, saying Farm Bureau delegates representing the northern states would just as soon give up direct payments.
“That would be the thing we’d let go, because it’s not a lot of dollars and it represents some government strings. On the other hand, the southern guys, the rice and cotton crops especially, really utilize the direct payments as part of their safety net.”
Brownfield reporters Julie Harker and Tom Steever contributed to this article.