Policy Talk at Commodity Classic

Commodity Groups Detail Farm Bill Priorities

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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A Commodity Classic sign at the entrance of the Orange County Convention Center in Orlando, Florida, last week. Leaders for the groups representing corn, soybeans, wheat and sorghum discussed some of their priorities for the next farm bill. (DTN photo by Chris Clayton)

ORLANDO, Fla. (DTN) -- Farm groups came out of Commodity Classic this past weekend mostly looking to protect crop insurance as their key safety net in the next farm bill, but also potentially look for more funding to promote exports and tweak the commodity programs.

While defending the crop insurance program is a priority, leaders for key commodity groups indicated they want to improve the Title I safety net for crops, but they recognize the struggle to do that.

Daryl Cates, president of the American Soybean Association (ASA) and a farmer from Columbia, Illinois, noted during a panel discussion March 10 that the Trump administration's trade war with China resulted in reduced U.S. agricultural exports but the situation "never triggered" Title I subsidy payments.

"That needs to be fixed," he said.

Steve Censky, CEO of ASA, told DTN that soybean farmers would like to see some policy changes that would allow a voluntary update in base acres as well.


Minnesota farmer Tom Haag, president of the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA), said maintaining the crop insurance program is the group's top priority.

"We don't want to mess with what works. The farmers put it into their ag loans, so they work with it very well and they know they have to have it," Haag said in an interview. "With the way the inputs have been, if you were to have a loss with those high inputs, you would have quite a loss with those high inputs at the end of the year on your financials. Having crop insurance doesn't make you right, but it keeps you going into the next year."

Craig Meeker, chairman of the National Sorghum Producers (NSP), was the most outspoken about the need for more money for the next farm bill than is in current spending.

Meeker, a Wellington, Kansas, producer, said on Friday's panel, "2022 was a dumpster fire for us in the sorghum belt," with the worst crop yield since 1960.

"Show me the money," Meeker said. "How do we have a relevant bill without new money?" he asked. "We are going after new money. We are going to get it."

Brent Cheyne, an Oregon farmer who became president of the National Association of Wheat Growers (NAWG) last week, said he wants to see a farm bill that tackles both the safety net and federal regulations. He said there are worries as input costs increase that the safety net has the necessary flexibility to perform for producers. "Our ask is don't design obsolescence into it before it ever gets off the ground."

Cheyne added, "Fighting heavy-handed oversight on regulation on pesticides and herbicides, that sort of thing, is another area that's important. We have got to have safe, healthy, affordable crop inputs and making sure the EPA and others toe the line in a good, fast and fair registration process of these products is of paramount importance not only to wheat growers, but to the American farmer in general."

In an interview with DTN, Cates also pointed to policy discussions surrounding cover crops. At least some of his members would like to see some policy changes regarding allowing winter wheat to be used as a cover crop, or a second crop.

"There's talk about trying to get it to be paid as a cover crop," Cates said. "The southern states can take advantage of it while the northern states, such as up in Michigan or the Dakotas -- even though they grow wheat -- they can't take advantage of being able to double crop."


A push that keeps getting more focus among commodity organizations is to see funding increases in the farm bill for the Market Access Program (MAP) and the Foreign Market Development Program (FMD). The two programs are used by an array of groups to help promote agricultural commodities overseas. Often, commodity leaders talk about "MAP and FMD" together.

MAP is funded at $200 million a year and FMD is at $34.5 million. The MAP program funding has been at the same level since at least 2006. Some U.S. senators last year introduced a bill to double the funding for the two programs. That debate is likely to carry over into the farm bill discussion.

"MAP and FMD funding has been stagnant for 20 years," Cates said. "When you take inflation into account, we've gone backwards. "That is definitely one of the priorities to promote exports."

Haag also pointed to the need to increase funding for those two programs.

"It would be nice to have a little increase because we also need our U.S. Grains Council to be effective," Haag said.


Cates noted it's going to be difficult to increase funding in the farm bill. He pointed to comments from Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., to that effect. "There were actually talks about trying to decrease the amounts, but she (Stabenow) said on her watch she wasn't going to let that happen. But she said it would probably be difficult to get any kind of increase. There have been some talks this past week that there could be a small glimmer of hope where there could be some tweaks or increases -- maybe."

Haag said he's heard concerns about the amount of money that will go towards the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).

"As of right now, our understanding is there is not a lot of extra money for the farm bill," Haag said. "Well, that means there might not be enough extra money for some of the things we'd like to see, such as maybe reference prices being higher. We have got to make sure we have the money there, because we don't want to rob from one part of our farm bill to pay for another part. We have a good farm bill right now, so we want to make sure we keep it going that way."

The House Agriculture Committee last week released its letter on budget views citing come of the challenges facing producers and pointing to the farm bill as a strategy to increase "strategic investments in critical programs that will alleviate the need for costly and inefficient ad-hoc spending," among other benefits. The committee suggested that more funding in commodity programs would avoid having to continually pass off-budget disaster assistance.

DTN Political Correspondent Jerry Hagstrom contributed to this report.

Also see, "Ag Secretary Signs Climate-Smart MOUs at Commodity Classic," https://www.dtnpf.com/…

Chris Clayton can be reached at Chris.Clayton@dtn.com

Follow him on Twitter @ChrisClaytonDTN

Chris Clayton