PHOENIX (DTN) -- Members of the American Farm Bureau Federation voting delegation agreed Tuesday they have to be united in where they stand on farm policy, ahead of what could be a farm bill debate starting in 2017.
If delegates of the American Farm Bureau Federation get their way, the next farm bill will place an equal emphasis on commodity and crop insurance programs and will keep nutrition programs and farm policy linked.
In crafting AFBF policies for 2017, the delegates voting in Phoenix, Arizona, made it clear they're not willing to choose between commodity programs and crop insurance programs as a funding priority in a next farm bill.
Conversely, some members of the voting delegation expressed a desire to leave a bit of flexibility in AFBF policies to help advance farm policy debates in Congress.
Voting delegates struck down an amendment that would have stated explicit support for risk management program funding above all others in the next farm bill.
With declines in net farm income continuing, some delegates said they believed if the agriculture economy continues to slide, crop insurance funding should be protected above all else.
In addition, the delegates inserted language in AFBF policy to oppose any federal policy that would require conservation compliance as a prerequisite for crop insurance eligibility.
During debate on the 2014 farm bill, water quality concerns were part of the national discussion. In particular, tying conservation compliance and crop insurance was seen as a way to incentivize expanding conservation efforts.
A North Dakota delegate said because there is a continued problem with drainage on farms in his state, linking conservation compliance with crop insurance would be a "big restriction."
That's because tiling and drainage work often is not completed by many farmers because of standing water problems in the Prairie Pothole region, for example, often making it difficult if not impossible to grow successful crops in some parts of the state.
Oftentimes, farmers with drainage problems rely on crop insurance to make up for lost revenues from not being able to plant crops as a result of wet ground.
Also on Tuesday, debate continued among delegates as to whether AFBF policy should allow separating nutrition programs from the farm bill.
During the 2014 farm bill debate, the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program and other food programs were separated from legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Currently, nutrition programs account for about 70% of the farm bill budget, while agriculture programs make up the other part.
Some AFBF delegates thought perhaps being flexible in policy would better position farm groups when debate on a 2018 farm bill begins.
Others argued that because the 2014 farm bill would not have passed the Senate without keeping nutrition programs, it was clear there remains a natural alliance between food and farm program interests.
Congressional staffers told the AFBF audience earlier this week that members of Congress continue to see the importance of keeping nutrition in the farm bill, although there are some members who continue to talk about separation.
President-elect Donald Trump has indicated a desire to cut wasteful government programs overrun with fraud. That stance remains a wildcard when it comes to what the next farm bill will include.
An August 2013 USDA report, http://bit.ly/…, showed fraud rates in the SNAP program were relatively low.
USDA found the vast majority of the illegal sales of SNAP benefits for cash or other ineligible items occur most often in smaller-sized retailers that typically stock fewer healthy foods.
"Over the last five fiscal years, the number of retailers authorized to participate in SNAP has grown by over 40%," the report said.
"Small- and medium-sized retailers account for the vast majority of that growth. The rate of trafficking in larger grocery stores and supermarkets -- where 82% of all benefits were redeemed -- remained low at less than 0.5%."
Todd Neeley can be reached at email@example.com
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