Ag Policy Blog

Farm Bill's Base Acre Battle

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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A map created by Farmdocdaily shows states with the most potential loss of base acres under a provision in the House version of the farm bill. (map by University of Illinois Extension)

The principal negotiators working on the 2018 farm bill last week made a point of locking arms for a photo with reporters in Washington, D.C., reflecting they were all determined to negotiate a completed deal soon.

But problems remain and reporters can find themselves standing in the hallways of Capitol meeting rooms just to hear the obligatory "We're making progress" when the next round of conferencemeetings end. It can go on for days, weeks or months.

While the argument over work requirements in the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) has drawn most of the attention, a couple of tweaks to base acres in the House version of the farm bill also is a sticking point in the talks.

As Farmdocdaily out of the University of Illinois Extension posted last week, the House bill provides a one-time base-acre update only available for farms in counties designated as being in "exceptional drought for 20 or more weeks from 2008-2012." Farmdocdaily stated, "These counties could update yields to 90% of the simple average of yield per planted acre for the 2013 to 2017 crop years." Texas is the dominant state that qualifies for that yield update, but so do farms in much of western Oklahoma, western Kansas, southwest Nebraska, eastern Colorado and eastern New Mexico. A swath of counties across Georgia and western South Carolina would also qualify.

CBO concluded that just cotton farmers in those areas allowed up update base acres would receive $577 million more in PLC payments over the next decade. To make up for this base update, the House bill also would eliminate base-acre payments to any farmer who did not plant a program crop on base acres from 2009-2017.

Farmdocdaily noted cotton farmers, which were excluded from the 2014 commodity title, could wind up on a per-acre basis drawing nearly $90 per acre when ARC/PLC payments, Market Facilitation Payments (MFP) and Cotton ginning cost share assistance are stacked together. That's significantly higher than corn, wheat and even soybeans, which draws the bulk of the MFP program dollars.

Politico reported Monday the base-acre battle is just one of the partisan fights between House Agriculture Committee Chairman Mike Conaway, R-Texas, and Sen. Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee. The report states one of the battles in the farm bill pits cotton growers versus urban farmers.…

The arguments are not just between Conaway and Stabenow, though. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, laid into the possible base-acre shift last week, telling agriculture reporters the plan is a major giveaway to cotton producers at the expense of other commodity producers.

"Can you believe what Conaway's trying to do -- rob the wheat farmers and the corn farmers and soybean farmers of their base so he can get more for cotton?" Grassley said. "Cotton just got a billion dollars through another action of Congress in the last six months. When are they ever going to be satisfied? What does it take to satisfy the cotton farmers?"

Grassley added, "And then look at what he's done to payment limitations? Took them all off, just like you can be a billionaire Wall Street banker and still get farm payments."

DTN asked a spokesperson for Conaway about Grassley's statements and received some comments Conaway made to farm broadcaster Jeff Nalley. In those comments, Conaway said, "We’ve got a drought yield update that my opponents on the other side and other Senators are saying well you know, look at what Conaway’s done for Texas. Well, it’s the drought and if we want to define a drought differently, fine let’s have that conversation but those multi-week, multi-year droughts have an impact on what we’re trying to do particularly with the yield update that we’re trying to address. We also look at pay-fors under Title One that the negative impacts more on Texas than other places so, I’m as best I can, trying to represent all of agriculture and not just cherry production or some specialty crop.”

Conaway reiterated that when it comes to dropping base acres that the "bulk of it's in Texas." He added, "Anybody who’s got acreage that’s been in grass for ten years, we’ve got to have a hard, difficult conversation with them to say, should you be participating in Title One? If you’re not in the planting fight, if you’re not growing stuff that’s covered or you’ve been in cover crops or other areas, can you realistically argue with the folks who are and are in this fight trying to make money at it when you’ve just been planting grass for ten years so that’s a hard conversation to have with people who are looking at changes. Nobody loses base acres, it just simply says for this farm bill, base acres that haven’t been planted to anything except grass for the last ten years, you won’t be eligible for Title One. You’re still eligible for all of the other programs associated with grass and livestock production and everything else."

Though Conaway said Texas is most affected, an analysis from Farmdocdaily shows western states are more likely to lose payments under the base-acre exclusion. Those included California, Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, Arizona and New Mexico, as well as Massachusetts in the Northeast, have average less than 70% of planted base acres for all crops. Washington State, Oregon, Montana, Oklahoma, West Virginia, Connecticut and Maine would be the second wave of states affected with less than 80% of base acres planted. Texas comes in the third block of states, according to farmdockdaily, that planed up to 90% of base acres from 2009-17. Other states in that block include Idaho, Colorado, Arkansas, Louisiana, Alabama, Georgia, South Carolina, Florida, New Hampshire and Vermont. Still, farmdocdaily noted the exclusion would be on a farm-by-farm basis so the impacts would also be felt elsewhere.

The full farmdocdaily look at commodity programs under the farm bill can be viewed at…

Chris Clayton can be reached at

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