CEW-MR-1-Farm Bill Reforms1by Pat Malin
ONEIDA, NY — Stability. That one word was on everyone’s lips during a recent discussion of the 2014 Farm Bill.
Dairy and crop farmers and representatives from the New York Farm Bureau joined U.S. Representative Richard Hanna (R-22) at the HP Hood milk processing plant on Feb. 13 to weigh the impact of the new legislation on Central New York farmers, and they all agreed the five-year bill is an improvement over the previous versions.
“It brings consistency of supply on our end,” said Rick Kovarik, director of operations for the Hood plant, which packages 45 million gallons of milk annually.
“We can get the product and keep it in production here. It’s a fresh, good, safe and wholesome supply. We used to have a problem at times with the supply whenever the market got tight. The stability takes the volatility out of the market.”
The majority of intake at this plant comes from farms within a 50-mile radius, which includes Madison, Oneida and Onondaga counties in the heart of the upstate region.
Rep. Hanna explained, “The farm bill gives stability to New York farmers instead of merely just extending the current, outdated policies. It transitions to a more modern dairy support system and supports the kinds of farming seen in New York, such as specialty crops and organics.”
The bill will make improvements in these key areas: dairy, crops, organics, rural development (i.e. broadband computer access), conservation (farmland protection and improved water infrastructure), and aid to beginning farmers (discounts on crop insurance and credit opportunities). It will give low-income students and seniors greater access to nutritious produce at farmer’s markets and food banks, and benefit consumers overall by developing new food hubs, and distribution and transportation networks.
Another piece of good news: the 2014 Farm Bill is projected to reduce the deficit by almost $17 billion over 10 years, according to the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office.
Two new programs are called Agriculture Risk Coverage and Price Loss Coverage (PLC), designed to help farmers when crop prices or revenue are low. In the PLC program, farmers will receive payments if the crop price falls below a certain “target” price.
Starting Sept. 1, dairy farmers can participate in a new “margin” system or the current one allowed under the crop insurance, but not both. The new bill also eliminates the current 70-year price support system.
If a dairy farmer has less than 200 cows, the bill provides additional incentives with a 25 percent reduction in premiums for the first two years of the program. Producers could elect to cover 25 percent to 90 percent of their production base on margins ranging from $4 to $8 per hundredweight, and increase their insurance in 50 cent increments.
John Wagner, area field advisor of the Madison County Farm Bureau, thinks farmers will be pleased with the price supports, crop insurance and margin management policies, even though “there are still a lot of ideas to be flushed out.”
He is familiarizing himself with the new insurance proposals and helping other farmers understand the policies, “but each individual producer will have to look at his business model and determine their needs and what’s best for them,” he said.
The new policies are not expected to affect the price that consumers pay for milk either.
Darrell Griff, a District 5 director for the Farm Bureau, raises pasture-fed beef, hogs and sheep in the village of Hamilton, also in Madison County. “Even though I don’t raise specialty crops, we didn’t have any safety nets in the previous farm bill and now we do,” he said. “In the past, imagine trying to make out a household budget and now knowing your income and expenses. The insurance policy gives us stability and will help us determine our budgets.”
Ben Simons, a dairy farmer in Remsen, approves of the farm bill from several different perspectives. Two years ago, he began transitioning from a conventional farm to both organic dairy and crops like corn, soybeans and hay. He has just 80 cows.
He is also treasurer of the Boonville Dairy Co-op, a network of 35 to 40 family farms. “There’s no question that this is not the best farm bill for everyone,” he commented, “but with all the uncertainty there used to be in the milk pricing formula, this will give us more assurance in the price of milk.
“The margin insurance program will give us stability at a time when the cost of milk is uncertain. If the price of milk drops dramatically, there will be a safety net. Personally, this means a lot to me.”
Farmers who have specialty crops like fruits and vegetables, nuts and nursery crops will benefit from Specialty Crop Block Grants and the Specialty Crop Research Initiative.
Simons thanked the Hood company and the congressman. “It’s hard to walk into a grocery store these days and not to see aisles of organic products,” he added. “Thanks for helping to support research for agriculture and for organics.”
As he responded to questions from the media, Hanna admitted the new farm bill is “not perfect,” but  one of the most important benefits is helping local farmers in getting fresh produce to market with improved transportation. He also wants to see American farmers increase crop and beef exports. He gave praise to organic farmers for their “lifestyle choice and long-term commitment.”
One shortcoming in the farm bill, however, was its failure to address immigration reform. Many farmers have complained about a lack of a skilled workforce or long-term workers. “If a farmer is able to get cabbage in the ground, he might not be able to get it out. It’s important for agriculture to have access to a simpler immigration program,” said Hanna.