The American Corn Growers Association has asked the Senate Agriculture Committee to consider a farm bill approach that, in some respects, would take U.S. farm policy back to the future.

ACGA leaders said they want Congress to “rethink” U.S. agriculture policy and change course from current, market-oriented programs to those that would re-establish the non-recourse loan as a floor price for major commodities and re-institute the strategic (farmer-owned) reserve.

“We need farm policy that provides a price to farm families rather than subsidies, an adequate strategic reserve of storable food and feed commodities and a way to curb overproduction of crops traditionally in surplus so we can plant new dedicated energy producing crops to help the nation move toward independence,” said Larry Mitchell, ACGA's chief executive.

Mitchell testified before Chairman Tom Harkin, D-Iowa, Ranking Member Saxby Chambliss, R-Ga., and members of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition and Forestry Committee at a hearing in Washington.

“Most, if not all members of this committee have publicly stated on many occasions that the new farm bill will be drafted by the agriculture committees of the U.S. Congress and not at the World Trade Organization,” said Mitchell.

Once Congress completes its work, “let's take this plan to the WTO because this plan does exactly what has been advocated by the WTO — it eliminates subsidies, addresses the issue of overproduction and helps establish better prices for farmers around the world.”

The plan, titled the Food from Family Farms Act, has been cowritten and endorsed by the National Family Farm Coalition and 60 other organizations. It calls for:

  • Re-establishment of the non-recourse loan program to provide a floor price for the major, strategic commodities.
  • Establishment of a Strategic National Grain Reserve, including the re-establishment of the Farmer Owned Reserve for (1) domestic food security, (2) domestic energy security and international famine relief.
  • Reauthorization of the agriculture secretary's authority to manage over-production and price-depressing surpluses by providing incentives to plant dedicated energy crops on acres which are now, or may be, produced in surplus. “This could be accomplished by establishment of a biomass reserve program similar and apart from the Conservation Reserve Program to provide incentives for the production and processing of biomass energy use.”

Mitchell said the new farm bill should also include:

  • Retention and expansion of the Conservation Reserve Program,
  • Full funding and deployment of the Conservation Security Program,
  • Expansion of the energy title of the farm bill,
  • Establishment of a standing disaster program,
  • Development of a Cellulosic Reserve Program,
  • Extension of the Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC),
  • Inclusion of a competition title similar to Sen. Harkin's Agricultural Fair Practices Act,
  • Implementation of the current Country of Origin Labeling provision of the 2002 farm bill, and
  • Improved delivery and full funding of programs targeted toward limited resource and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers.

ACGA leaders have also asked Congress not to allow USDA to close Farm Service Agency offices until it finishes writing the new farm bill or the Agriculture Department figures out how it will administer the bill.

“Until we know what programs will be contained in the new farm bill or how it will be administered, and until Farm Service Agency computer problems have been mitigated, it is ill-advised to reduce the FSA farm program delivery platform,” said Mitchell.

“We urge Congress to postpone any county office closures or reductions in staff until after the farm bill has been passed, enacted and deployed and that a real solution to the antiquated computer system are likewise deployed.”

He asked the senators to introduce and pass a companion bill to Rep. Stephanie Herseth Sandlin's legislation (H.R 1649) to prevent the closure of FSA offices for 12 months after enactment of the new farm bill.

“We ask all farmers to take a serious look at what is being proposed for the next farm bill and who is making the proposals,” said Mitchell. “It is imperative we understand how important it is for all of us to ensure the crafting of a farm bill that works for farmers, rural communities, taxpayers, consumers, the environment and all stakeholders.

“ACGA sees the need for better prices paid to farmers from the marketplace, less reliance on taxpayer dollars and the need to address the economic and political sustainability of the next farm bill.”

The Food from Family Farm Act drew heavily from the findings contained in the study, “Rethinking U.S. Agriculture Policy: Changing Course to Secure Farmer Livelihoods Worldwide,” by the University of Tennessee's Agriculture Policy Analysis Center.

ACGA said it represents 14,000 members in 35 states.

For more information on the farm bill proposals or the organization, go to www.acga.org.