Senate farm bill rolling down the bipartisan track

06/21/2012 05:26:00 AM
Tom Karst

National Editor Tom KarstBipartisanship is breaking out all over Washington, D.C., if this morning's coverage of the farm bill is any indication.

The Washington Post's headline "Farm bill politics mutes partisanship in the Senate" hits that theme while The New York Times coverage "Senate debates overhauling farm bill programs" trumpets farm bill progress in the Senate  but observes the hurdles to be faced in the House.

The Senate may complete work on the amendments  by Thursday afternoon and pass the 2012 farm bill.

The good news for the industry from yesterday's votes on Senate farm bill amendments was the defeat of the amendment that sought to cut funding for the Market Access Program by $40 million. The vote wasn't close with 30 supporting and 69 opposed. Here is a link for the roll call votes in the Senate for the farm bill.

One of the topics we haven't heard talked about at all in the runup to the farm bill debate is the  planting restriction on program crop growers to prevent them from planting fruits and vegetables. The reason for the restriction on planting fruits and vegetables in previous farm bills stemmed from the persuasive argument that fruit and vegetable growers shouldn't have to compete against farmers who received subsidies for corn and soybeans whether they planted those crops or not but wanted to dabble in vegetables.

The topic is no longer relevant because the 2012 farm bill eliminates direct payments for program crops and instead shifts federal support to crop insurance products. With the end of direct payments, planting restrictions on corn,  soybean and other program crop growers will end. It will be interesting to watch the net effect of the farm bill reforms on fruit and vegetable production.

With the shift in emphasis to crop insurance as the main federal prop to all growers, there is a need to more closely look at the potential market disruptions that could result. The number of crop insurance products for specialty crop growers is expanding over time, and so is the potential for unintended consequences.

While industry lobbyists have been quick to remind lawmakers and regulators about the unfortunate effects of federal crop insurance fraud in the watermelon market in the late 1990s, there also is pressure on lobbyists to support more risk management tools for specialty crop growers.

Do readers think the expansion of federal crop insurance for specialty crops presents opportunity or peril for the industry?



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