A list "who's who" of groups in agriculture, conservation and wildlife has come together for a delicate compromise on the farm bill meant to avoid any means testing when it comes to crop insurance premium subsidies while keeping some provisions linking conservation compliance to crop insurance.
More than 30 groups signed on to the letter Monday to Senate Agriculture Committee Chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., and committee ranking member, Sen. Thad Cochran, R-Miss.. The groups described their proposal as a "delicately crafted compromise" and thus the groups signing the letter to the senators indicated they would not accept changes to their proposal.
Groups stated in their letter that, "In the spirit of compromise and in the interest of completing a 2013 Farm bill this year, each of the groups has committed not to support amendments beyond this compromise that might weaken the crop insurance program or amendment that might not link conservation compliance with crop insurance premium assistance."
The agricultural and crop-insurance groups seek to remove language from an amendment last year offered by Sen. Dick Durbin, D-Ill., and Sen. Tom Coburn, R-Okla., to reduce premium subsidies by 15% for farmers who earn more than $750,000 in adjusted gross income. That amendment passed on the floor last year 66-33 and was scored to save about $1.2 billion over 10 years. It would affect about 1,500 farm operations nationally.
In return for getting rid of means testing for crop insurance, the agricultural groups agreed to a plan that would tie conservation compliance to crop insurance with stipulations involved.
Stabenow has said her bill would be built on the legislation that passed the full Senate, which had included both the Durbin-Conrad amendment, as well as the amendment on conservation compliance.
The agricultural and conservation groups stated in their white paper, obtained by DTN, that they have been negotiating to find common ground on conservation compliance and crop insurance.
Thus, the groups offer a plan that would make a farmer ineligible for the premium subsidy the year after a violation in compliance is found, or until the infraction has been fixed. Also, those who are subject to highly-erodible land provisions will have five years to implement a conservation plan before they risk their premium subsidy. On wetlands, farmers would have a two-year period to mitigate the wetland drainage to retain eligibility to receive crop insurance premium subsidies.
Farmers who have not been in compliance since enactment of the 2008 farm bill also will have two years to develop a conservation or mitigation plan to retain eligibility for crop-insurance premium subsidies.
The compromise would put the onus on USDA's Natural Resources Conservation Service to validate and confirm a producer is in compliance after a self-certification form is filed. Otherwise, there would be no penalty on the farmer.
"If USDA fails to evaluate the Form 1026 change in a timely fashion and the producer is later found to be in violation of the law, the producer would held harmless. If, however, the producer fails to file a new Form 1026 and is found in violation, USDA would determine an equitable fine for the producer not to exceed the Federal government premium assistance during the years of violation."
The groups also concur that, "The swampbuster or sodbuster provision for crop insurance must not have clawback provisions. If someone converts wetlands or breaks up HEL after May 1, 2013, the newly converted lands must be mitigated in accordance with current law."
In return for the compliance provisions reached in the agreement, the groups signing the letter want the crop-insurance means-testing provision struck from the Senate farm bill.
"We oppose any provisions that provide for means testing or payment limitations on crop insurance premium assistance or indemnities. We also oppose any reduction in premium subsidies."
The groups argue that means testing or reduction in premium subsidies would disrupt the pool of farmers who would enroll in crop insurance. That risks increasing the premiums for everyone.
"In order for farmers with greater risk to have access to affordable insurance, farmers from all risk profiles need to participate in the pool. Established farmers on proven land make it possible for smaller growers and farmers in riskier areas to get proper risk protection from the private sector."
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Groups signing onto the letter included:
American Association of Crop Insurers
American Farm Bureau Federation
American Farmland Trust
American Society of Agronomy
American Soybean Association
Association of Fish and Wildlife Agencies
Crop Insurance and Reinsurance Bureau
Crop Science Society of America
Environmental Defense Fund
Land Improvement Contractors of America
National Association of State Conservation Agencies
National Association of Conservation Districts
National Association of Resource Conservation and Development Councils
National Conservation District Employees Association
National Corn Growers Association
National Cotton Council
National Council of Farmer Cooperatives
National Farmers Union
National Wildlife Federation
Soil and Water Conservation Society
Soil Science Society of America
Southern Peanut Farmers Federation
Theodore Roosevelt Conservation Partnership
The Nature Conservancy
USA Rice Federation
World Wildlife Fund
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