USDA's Farm Bill Principles

Farm Safety Net Shouldn't Distort Markets or Increase Shallow Loss Payments

Chris Clayton
By  Chris Clayton , DTN Ag Policy Editor
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USDA released a four-page document of farm bill principles on Wednesday, hitting on some specific themes in the farm safety net and risk management.

OMAHA (DTN) -- Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue laid out a four-page set of principles for the farm bill Wednesday during a trip to Pennsylvania.

The summary of principles are largely broad in scope and would leave much of the nuts and bolts of a farm bill up to Congress. USDA wants a "fiscally responsible" farm bill that reflects the Trump Administration's budget goals. USDA also wants to reduce the regulatory burdens on USDA customers as well. In a statement, Perdue said the principles come after traveling to more than 30 states to hear from people in agriculture.

"These principles will be used as a road map -- they are our way of letting Congress know what we've heard from the hard-working men and women of American Agriculture," Perdue said. "While we understand it's the legislature's job to write the farm bill, USDA will be right there providing whatever counsel Congress may request or require."

Perdue's farm bill principles comes before the Trump Administration details its next budget proposal that sets administration's financial priorities. Last year's budget proposal, which came before Perdue was confirmed at USDA, recommended major cuts to the department's discretionary programs and farmer programs such as crop insurance.

USDA's farm bill concepts call for "a farm safety net that helps American farmers weather times of economic stress without distorting markets or increasing shallow loss payments." That would suggest USDA does not want to see any changes to Price Loss Coverage reference prices or to the Agricultural Risk Coverage program, a shallow loss program that would increase payments to producers.

That position comes just a few days after the National Farmers Union called for increasing funding for the farm safety net. NFU seeks to increase the PLC reference prices and make technical corrections to the ARC program. NFU also wants better incentives to help manage the nation's milk supplies.

The policy also states USDA wants to promote more "innovative crop insurance products and changes" for farmers as well to help them manage risk. The principles document does not specify any need to reduce crop insurance.

Other elements under farm production and conservation would encourage young, beginning and underrepresented farmers with increased access to land and capital. Conservation should balance farm productivity "so the most fertile and productive lands remain in production while land retired for conservation purposes favor more environmentally sensitive acres." Conservation practices should also focus on improved soil health, water and air quality.

Under food aid, USDA said nutrition assistance should support "those truly in need" and "support work as a pathway to self-sufficiency, well-being and economic mobility for individuals and families receiving supplemental nutrition assistance." The integrity of food aid programs should also be strengthened to reduce "waste, fraud and abuse through shared data, innovation and technology modernization."

In trade, USDA called for improving U.S. competitiveness by expanding investments while also adding more accountability to export promotion programs. Farm organizations have called for doubling funding for the Market Access Program and Foreign Market Development Program.

USDA wants to beef up USDA technical and scientific expertise to monitor practices in other countries "that impede U.S. agricultural exports and engage with foreign partners to address them." The department also wants to "ensure the farm bill is consistent with U.S. international trade laws and obligations." The National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition stated it was "heartened" to see USDA champion issues such as increased land access and opportunities for beginning and disadvantaged farmers and ranchers, and improved integrity in the organic label. NSAC also cited USDA's statements on strengthening investment in research and conservation.

Still, NSAC was concerned about issues related to the health of rural communities being left out, including advancing local and regional food markets and farm-based renewable energy. Then are concerns that "USDA seems to imply a fundamental change in our food security programs that could not only challenge the agency's anti-hunger objectives, but could also seriously risk the timely passage of a new farm bill.

USDA's farm bill principles can be found at…

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Chris Clayton