Mandan News

N.D. praises newly passed farm bill

By Jessica Holdman
Lee News

Congress passed a new five-year farm bill Tuesday, eliminating direct payments and including changes to crop insurance used heavily by North Dakota farmers.

The bill passed 68-32. It now goes to President Barack Obama to be signed into law.

“It was a really strong vote,” said Sen. John Hoeven, R-N.D., who was a member of the Senate-House conference committee that negotiated the bill.

Under the bill producers will have a the option to buy crop insurance coverage beyond the maximum currently allowed. They’ll also have a choice between two subsidies with payment limitations designed to kick in only after losses.

“We’re going to give them a really good choice,” Hoeven said.

Producers can pick the Agriculture Risk Coverage program that covers multiple-year losses not covered by crop insurance. The other option is Price Loss Coverage that kicks in if crop prices fall below a set threshold.

Hoeven said for wheat, oilseed and barley producers, PLC may be a better choice while the corn and soybean industries always have been advocates for ARC.

The enhanced crop insurance program and payment limitations are among two elements that were priorities for the North Dakota Farmers Union, said President Mark Watne in a statement.

The bill also enhances the livestock indemnity program to cover up to 75 percent of livestock loss up to $125,000. The disaster relief is backdated to October 2011, so ranchers with losses in the state’s early winter storms will be covered.

Cuts were made to the bill too, including $800 million a year from the food stamps program, for a total of $23 billion to lower the federal deficit. Cuts were less than some lawmakers hoped for but enough to reach a compromise.

The food stamp cuts were made with elements meant to reduce fraud, Sen. Heidi Heitkamp, D-N.D., said in a statement.

“These changes do not remove anyone from food assistance programs and they make sure every person receives 100 percent of the benefits they are intended to under the current rules of the program.,” she said.

Heitkamp also touted the bill’s $880 million in spending to develop renewable fuels and continue U.S. Department of Agriculture ethanol blender fuel pump funding.

“This five-year farm bill is not perfect, but it includes needed certainty and support for farmers and ranchers in North Dakota and across the nation,” said North Dakota Gov. Jack Dalrymple in a statement.

Lawmakers had hoped to avoid attaching conservation compliance provisions to crop insurance but, for the vast majority of North Dakota farmers, it’s something they’ve been dealing with for a long time, Hoeven said.

North Dakota Agriculture Commissioner Doug Goehring praised funding of programs that enhance agricultural trade overseas, like the Foreign Market Development program and Market Assistance Program. North Dakota has $4.1 billion in annual exports.

Goehring said the Specialty Crop Block Grant Program funding and plant pest and disease program funding in the bill also are important.

“The decisive votes for the farm bill in the House last week and today in the Senate reaffirm there is bipartisan and bicameral support for the agriculture producers who feed our world,” Rep. Kevin Cramer, R-N.D., said in a statement.