Writing a new farm bill in 2023 will require investing countless hours in educating over 200 new members of Congress and also may mean navigating fights over spending, according to lawmakers and trade association leaders advocating on behalf of the crop insurance industry.
“We’re going to be operating under such budget constraints that there will be all manner of discussions from all perspectives on everything,” said former House Ag Committee chairman Frank Lucas, R-Okla., who has returned to the Ag Committee as a member and also chairs the House Committee on Science, Space and Technology.
Lucas told the audience attending the 75th annual Crop Insurance Industry Convention in Florida Monday that “if this becomes a really tight-fisted Congress” there are only a limited number of pools of money to go after.
The largest portion of farm bill spending, almost 80%, goes for nutrition programs, followed by crop insurance and conservation programs.
“It’s hard to believe that (Senate Ag) Chairwoman Stabenow will allow anyone to play in the nutrition side of the farm bill funding mechanism, and that only leaves crop insurance, conservation and a handful of resource pools out there.
“We have to protect the investments that we’ve made in addition to being able to enhance those investments,” he emphasized. “Strap on your boots, it’s going to be a ride.”
Lucas was joined in the farm bill discussion by Rep. Salud Carbajal, D-Calif., who serves on the House Ag Committee and another former House Ag Committee Chairman, Mike Conaway, who now serves as an adviser to the American Association of Crop Insurers (AACI) board of directors.
Carbajal, whose district includes dozens of fruit and vegetable growers near Santa Barbara, said he plans to be an advocate for specialty crops and he frequently hears about how important crop insurance is to his constituents.
Crop insurance protected more than 490 million acres and $173 billion in liabilities in 2022, according to the National Crop Insurance Services.
“But in our state, water is a big issue and labor is a big issue, which I think is similar throughout the country,” he added. He also worked on the Farm Workforce Modernization Act in the last Congress and said hoped that it will “serve as the foundation beyond our work on the farm bill.”
Carbajal called for making ad hoc disaster assistance like WHIP Plus “more permanent, comprehensive and included in the overall framework” for risk management.
“After disasters, our partners get help two years later. Obviously, it helps but it’s two years too late,” he said. “It just raises the question of how we could be more effective and flexible in looking at it from a different lens instead of traditionally the way we approved those programs.” Carbajal also called for streamlining other crop insurance programs like Whole Farm Revenue Protection to make the programs more sustainable and resilient.
Leaders representing commodity groups, specialty crop organizations, and the crop insurance industry also spoke at the conference about the need to protect, and perhaps enhance crop insurance and ad hoc disaster programs in a new farm bill. In addition, some are looking for changes in Title 1, regarding commodity programs.
“Crop insurance is at the top of our list in order to protect the program and find ways to continue to innovate and strengthen programs wherever possible. We’re also working through challenges in the safety net and trying to figure out if there’s budget and resources available to make improvements,” noted Wayne Stoskopf, the National Corn Growers Association’s director of public policy.
Christy Seyfert, who leads the American Soybean Association’s Washington office, said farmer surveys indicated that crop insurance is the most effective component of the safety net for soybean farmers.
“Like many others here, folks want it to be even more affordable at higher levels of coverage or have pockets of issues to address like quality loss, for example. But, you know, crop insurance right now, that is what works best for soybean farmers. The other area that we’re seeking improvements is in the Agriculture Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage commodity support programs.”
From the specialty crop perspective, Rebeckah Adcock, vice president for U.S. government relations for the International Fresh Produce Association, said a lot of progress has been made since specialty crops officially entered the farm bill realm in 2008, and additional adjustments were made in 2012 and 2015. But the Specialty Crop Farm Bill Alliance, of which IFPA is part, believes more work needs to be done and recently released 109 farm bill recommendations.
Kendall Jones, chair of NCIS and president and CEO of ProAg, said the industry was “proud to offer protection to the vast diversity of American agriculture” but she urged Congress to consider “a farm bill that further strengthens crop insurance, so that it works for more farmers, more crops, and more acres.”
Jones said her vision for the future of the industry is one of innovation.
“My hope for the future of our industry is that we build new products and services to support American farmers and ranchers as they invest in technology improving soil health, implementing conservation practices, and more efficiently producing our food, fuel and fiber. As the farm operations we serve make changes, we need to actively address how to better support their risk management needs.”
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