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Cali Owings, Published January 31 2014

Farm bill nearing final OK has new choices for producers

FARGO – In meetings throughout the state, North Dakota lawmakers championed the progress on a bipartisan farm bill set for Senate approval next week.

During meetings with the state’s agricultural groups in Fargo and Bismarck, Sen. John Hoeven, a Republican, and Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, a Democrat, outlined the bill’s highlights and implications for farmers and ranchers.

The plan cuts direct payments to farmers, instead enhancing the crop insurance program by $5.7 billion and boosting other risk management programs.

It also increases security for ranchers by providing nearly $7 billion for livestock disaster programs. The funding is retroactive so it can help ranchers on the South Dakota-North Dakota border who lost cattle due to an early winter storm in October.

The bill cuts $8 billion from the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program – a compromise from the House Republicans’ proposed $40 billion food stamp cut.

It also provides funding for support programs for beginning farmers and ranchers, renewable energy and biodiesel fuels, and ensures conservation compliance.

Both Hoeven and Heitkamp worked on the bill that was passed by the House earlier this week. The Senate is expected to vote on the bill Tuesday.

Both senators seemed confident the Senate will pass the farm bill.

Heitkamp said producers throughout North Dakota have waited a long time for the certainty that a new farm bill will bring.

“In this era of divided government … we were able to do a very effective, bipartisan farm bill and it’s a good way to start out the New Year,” she said.

More choices

“It is a lot of work,” Hoeven said of the farm bill after the meeting in Fargo. “They need to implement it and move as expeditiously as they can, but obviously make sure they get it right and implement it in a way that works well for farmers and ranchers.”

Once the bill becomes law, farmers will have more choices to make.

“It’s going to give us some really interesting choices, which is what you want for businessmen, to really have the opportunity to determine what is going to work best for their operation,” Hoeven said.

One of the biggest challenges will be educating crop farmers about their two coverage options now that the bill adds a new Agriculture Risk Coverage program. They’ll have to opt-in to the existing program that pays farmers when prices fall below the fixed prices in the bill or choose the new program, which helps farmers through revenue losses.

In addition to the current crop insurance program, producers can purchase additional areawide crop insurance through a new program with a 65 percent subsidy.

Aaron Krauter with the North Dakota Farm Service Agency said FSA offices will need to work closer with farmers and do outreach through grower’s groups to help producers choose the right safety net.

Readers can reach Forum reporter Cali Owings at (701) 241-5599