Now that the Senate has a farm bill (technically the Agriculture, Reform, Food and Jobs Act of 2013) ready and waiting for reconciliation with a House version, it’s a good time to look at how some of what the Senate passed may play out in the House—and what it all means for the general public as well as for farmers.
The bill would make crop insurance the biggest federal support program for farmers, replacing direct payments entirely for Midwestern corn and soybean growers. And along with the increased role of crop insurance, the bill includes a tie-in with conservation measures. Historically, going back to the 1985 farm bill, certain federal benefits have required farmers to employ conservation measures on highly erodible land, called cross-compliance. Crop insurance subsidies, though, have not previously carried that obligation.
“We've got to re-link soil conservation to the availability of crop insurance subsidy,” said Neil Hamilton, director of the Agricultural Law Center at Drake University in Des Moines.
Hamilton said the millions of American taxpayers who fund the farm bill but aren’t direct recipients of its entitlements should appreciate that.
“You’re not on SNAP (the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program, formerly called food stamps), you're not getting crop insurance,” Hamilton said, “but the issue of whether or not we're spending billions of dollars of public money—and then what that means to how tens of millions of acres of fragile land may be being farmed, or wetlands being drained, or hillsides being allowed to erode—that's something that I think you and all the members of the public have a real significant interest in.”