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Anticipating The 2012 Farm Bill

As heated debate over the repercussions from the 2008 Farm Bill wind down, discussion has already started about the next iteration of the Farm Bill that is sure to be no less heated than the last.

The House Agricultural Committee met on Wednesday for the first hearing on the new bill. The opening of a debate that will last two and a half more years until the final debate and voting in 2012.

And all the fuss isn't for nothing. The contents of the farm bill are far reaching, affecting farm payments, supplemental nutrition assistance programs (food stamps), international trade, conservation programs, opportunities in rural communities, agriculture research, food safety and more.

Small farmers who tend to produce vegetables or livestock instead of commodity crops such as corn, soybeans, wheat, cotton and rice have been especially critical of the current bill because 70% of farm payments go to the wealthiest 10% of producers.

Top Priorities for 2012

Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack has outlined the five priorities to be addressed in the Farm Bill of 2012.

  1. broadband access
  2. renewable energy and bio-fuels
  3. regional food systems and supply chains
  4. forest restoration and private land conservation
  5. eco-system market incentives

The emphasis on "regional food systems" at the expense of industrial scale agriculture is sure to spur resistance and heated debate.

During the hearing on Wednesday, Chairman of the House Agriculture Committee Collin Peterson (D-MN) floated several likely areas for debate in the 2012 bill:

  • Crop Insurance: Peterson has raised "whole farm revenue" as a basis for crop insurance as a replacement for the present system that encourages production of a single crop. This change would support small to mid-sized farms and encourage farmers to diversify their crops, a change that would benefit local food systems.
  • Peterson has also pointed to the Average Crop Revenue Election (ACRE) that was introduced in the 2008 Farm Bill as a model for future agricultural support payments. ACRE is the first program to protect farmers from both poor yields and low prices. Most current crop insurance is triggered by market fluctuations, not by crop failure due to weather. Peterson favors an approach that would shift direct payments to agricultural producers more towards an insurance support model rather than direct subsidization based on yield.
  • Dairy farmers have also been struggling of late and are seeking to change the way that the dairy industry is supported by the government in favor of a revenue-protection program.
  • Conservation: Additionally, Civil Eats reports that the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition supports a "green payments" program that would reward farmers for adopting more environmentally friendly farming practices instead of favoring overproduction.

Read More: US farm supports may need change -key lawmaker (Reuters)

Your Thoughts

What changes would you like to see in the next version of the Farm Bill? Leave a comment and let us know!

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