By Frank J. Buchman
Dalton Henry, governmental affairs specialist for the Kansas Wheat Commission, opened the program for a packed auditorium of more than 200 farmers at the recent WIBW Farm Profit Conference in Marysville, with remarks about the Farm Bill, which became law on Feb. 7 after farmers "waited and waited and waited some more."
Even after a wait of more than two years, however, Henry said farmers are still waiting for USDA to write the rules to know what the provisions of the bill will actually mean to their businesses.
Officially the Agricultural Act of 2014, the Farm Bill authorizes $956 billion in government spending for nutrition and agriculture programs in the United States for the next 10 years.
"The Farm Bill is considered two years late, since Farm Bills are traditionally passed every five years," Henry said. The previous Farm Bill, "Food, Conservation, and Energy Act of 2008," expired in 2012.
Just the beginning
Passage of the 949-page bill was just the beginning, Henry said.
"I haven't read it all, and I really don't know anybody who has. So, it's up to administrators throughout various USDA agencies to write rules, and how it'll really work," he said.
"From day one, the focus has been on the budget. It's called a Farm Bill, but it's really a food bill, because 80 percent of the budget goes toward nutrition programs," Henry indicated.
Eight percent of the Farm Bill budget does go to crop insurance programs; 6 percent toward conservation; 5 percent, commodities; and 1 percent, energy, research, horticulture and miscellaneous.
Dollar amounts include: Food stamps and nutrition, $756 billion; Crop insurance, $89.8 billion; Conservation, $56 billion; Commodity program, $44.4 billion; and Everything else, $8.2 billion.
"Commodity programs did have the largest spending reduction in the 2014 bill, down $14.3 billion, with some of those savings reinvested in the crop insurance program," Henry noted.
"But, the conservation program was also reduced, down $3.9 billion, and energy, research and horticulture spending was reduced $1.8 billion."
At the Kansas Commodity Classic during February, Agriculture Secretary Vilsack said: "We will allow you during the courses of the summer and fall to update production history. We want to make sure we are communicating with you about base and yields in your production history.
It is important to note that the underlying crop insurance program is set in separate, 'permanent' 1980's law.
"Enterprise Unit Subsidies are now permanent in crop insurance, and producers can enterprise units between irrigated and non-irrigated production," Henry said.
This allows for purchase of new Supplemental Coverage Option.
"SCO is a county-level shallow loss program delivered through crop insurance, that essentially 'stacks' on top of existing coverage, allowing producers to drop a catastrophic loss-yield from their actual production history.
In conclusion, Henry reminded the farmers: "The 2010 census reported that of the 435 congressional districts, only 34 percent were greater than 50 percent rural. Conversely, 101 districts were more than 99 percent urban. When we look toward future farm bills, agriculture needs to stick together and build coalitions."
Henry can be contacted at [email protected].
Buchman is a Flint Hills writer and rancher.