Congressmen Randy Neugebauer and Mike Conaway continue to question aspects of Secretary of Agriculture Mike Johanns' recommendations for the next farm bill.
Crop insurance, payment limits and payment eligibility topped concerns for the Texas legislators who serve on the House Agriculture Committee.
“The next farm bill will have a tremendous impact on farmers in the 19th District and the regional economy,” Neugebauer said. “It is imperative that we keep in mind that the current farm bill has worked extremely well for American agriculture and that we should not alter successful policies that have proven to be effective.”
Conaway questioned the administration's proposal to decrease the Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) eligibility cap for all commodity program payments from the current $2.5 million to $200,000 annually. The administration's proposal would also repeal the current provision that waives the AGI cap if 75 percent or more of the AGI is derived from farm-based income.
“Two vital components of an effective and efficient farm safety net are stability and predictability,” Conaway said. “Predictability also has been a stated goal by the secretary during the 52 farm bill forums USDA hosted across the country this past year. The dramatic reduction in eligibility proposed by the USDA is certain to cause individuals to be alternatively eligible and ineligible for programs year after year.
“The idea of introducing unprovoked, or additional elements of instability, such as an all or nothing concept into the financial planning of U.S. farm operations would likely result in an increased amount of insecurity within our nation's agriculture sector and already sensitive rural economies. I will continue to work on behalf of rural America and agriculture as a whole in the coming days of the farm bill reauthorization debate to provide both a stable and predictable farm economic environment for both producers and consumers.”
Neugebauer is also concerned about the impact USDA's payment limitation proposal would have on producers. He argues that West Texas producers are already stretched thin financially, and reductions in payments could put them out of business.
“At a time when America's producers are facing increased competition from farmers in other countries with less regulations and lower input costs, we should not be penalizing successful producers who run efficient, cost-effective farming operations,” Neugebauer said.
He inquired about the potential impact that increasing direct payments, as USDA is proposing for cotton and other crops, would have on agriculture rental agreements and farmland values. Neugebauer wants to ensure that landlord-tenant relations are not adversely affected and that such a policy would not discourage landowners from continuing to rent their farmland to active producers.
Neugebauer asked Johanns about a supplemental crop insurance proposal included as part of USDA's recommendations. Neugebauer, who has offered a crop insurance proposal of his own, believes better risk management tools are necessary to protect farmers from drought and other disasters. Although differing slightly from his own crop insurance legislation, Neugebauer said USDA's proposal possesses the same goal.
Congressman Conaway has previously stated that he appreciates the administration's efforts and energy in bringing ideas to the table, but Congress will ultimately draft language and direct funding as it relates to farm policy and the farm bill.