Farm program cuts are among the bunch that have been pushed by some lawmakers as a way to forestall or lessen the blow of the sequester scheduled to take effect on March 1. Other lawmakers appear resolved to let the sequestration take place.

There’s a lot of uncertainty, right now,” says Randy Veach, east Arkansas producer and president of the Arkansas Farm Bureau. “The sequestration is looming and, while they aren’t sure, a lot of our delegation (to Congress) believes sequestration will take place. They’re all trying to position themselves in a way to do what’s best for agriculture in Arkansas. We’re staying close to them as this continues to develop.”

Veach and other Arkansas Farm Bureau colleagues recently returned from a trip to Capitol Hill.

“We have to provide a safety net and not completely gut the (recent 2008 farm bill) extension with sequestration. One of the reasons we traveled to D.C. was to reinforce and give them appreciation for the farm bill extension. That gave us some certainty that our producers needed.”

While on the Hill, the contingent met with Oklahoma Rep. Frank Lucas, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. Veach says he was “complimentary of Arkansas Farm Bureau for the support we’ve provided on getting a good, comprehensive farm bill that provides a safety net for all of agriculture.”

Lucas feels “pretty positive about holding the extension. Of course, we may still see some cuts with sequestration. But (Lucas) feels we can count on the extension to continue.

“He said hearings on the new farm bill should begin soon and hopes what comes out of the House Agriculture Committee will be a lot like what came out in 2012. Those hearings could begin mid-year. There are a lot of budget issues, continuing resolution and other things that will take up a lot of Congress’ time before that.”

Among Veach’s other comments:

On the “alternative sequestration” offered by the Democrats that would end direct payments…

“It will look, basically, like (the farm bill) the Senate passed last year. That bill does not provide a safety net for Southern agriculture. It doesn’t recognize regional and commodity differences.

“So, we must work on that.”

More here.

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, “has said he’d take away direct payments in the 2014 through 2023 farm bill. What was obviously absent in that is he didn’t attack direct payments in the 2013 extension. That was very obvious and he’s concentrating on 2014.

“That gives us a little more certainty on the extension and we will get those direct payments.”

On the need for farmers to continue with plans to sign up for farm programs…

“Farmers should absolutely go ahead and sign up for farm programs. The extension was a full extension and it’s time to sign up. We appreciate the FSA setting that up and we want producers to get to the office, make appointments and start signing up.

“One thing in sequestration is ‘prior obligation.’ Programs that fit that definition aren’t subject to sequestration – things like SNAP, CRP, EQIP. If we sign up for direct payments and counter-cyclical under the extension, then we think those would be a prior obligation. When farmers go into the FSA office, they sign a contract with the government. When that happens, to me, that’s a prior obligation.”

On Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran being named ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee…

“We think that’s a very positive move and we’re extremely pleased.”

During last year’s writing of the new farm bill by the Senate Agriculture Committee, “we were really struggling and battling at every turn when it came to recognizing regional and commodity differences with (former ranking member, Kansas Sen.) Pat Roberts.

“Cochran understands. He knows exactly where we are and he’s always been a great advocate for Southern agriculture. We look for him to play that role again.”

Waterway infrastructure, crop insurance

Are you backing the big move to crop insurance?

“We’re supportive of a safety net for all commodities in all regions of the nation. Crop insurance is a valuable tool for a lot of regions.

“The problem arises where we mitigate risk with irrigation in the South. Yields aren’t that big of an issue here like they are in the Midwest and other areas.

“So, we need a choice. And that choice, instead of yield protection, needs to be price protection. We need a farm bill that gives us the opportunity to choose where to go for a safety net.”

More here.

“We want all our crops to have a safety net. And crop insurance provides that for much of the country – even for some of the producers in the South. But for a large portion of them, especially in certain commodities, (crop insurance) doesn’t provide that safety net.”

On aquaculture inspections and trade…

“There were some amendments in the (House Agriculture Committee) that would have hurt aquaculture and catfish. Our delegation worked hard to keep those off” the House version of the new farm bill. Arkansas Rep. Rick Crawford “did a good job with that.”

More here.

 “We think it’s possible that some of those (amendments) will come back up. There will probably be a lot more discussion about dairy again, too.

“On the Senate side, both Arkansas senators will be working on the (new farm) bill, trying to provide the same (protections) for catfish producers in the South.”

More on inspections here

On the current session of the Arkansas legislature…

“We had a really severe drought in the state – especially in areas with a lot of ranchers. The big issue we’re working on there is an exemption on state sales tax on energy-input items for poultry houses, aquaculture, and horticulture facilities. That is looking pretty good with 83 sponsors on a bill.

“That would provide ranchers some help. The drought really took a toll on a lot of agriculture but it really hit the livestock sector extremely hard.

“We’re also dealing with continued funding. We want to keep funding in place for the University of Arkansas and research.”

Anything on the Hill regarding Mississippi River navigation?

“Right now the river is back up and commerce is flowing. That means (navigation) issues tend to move to the back burner.

“I farm right alongside the Mississippi River in Mississippi County. We ship all our grain out on the river and fertilizer and input items come in on barges to the river ports. When you can’t get those on barges, the cost rises.

“Our country must address the needs of our inland waterways and our ports. We’re getting behind the rest of the world on our waterways. We’re behind on our ports. We can’t take the Post Panamax ships that need deep ports. We must get infrastructure in place and fixed.

“We must spend the money to keep our rivers open and flowing for commerce. If we don’t, it will become a huge problem. I once heard that if the Mississippi River shuts down, 20,000 jobs will be lost. Not only that, but think of the increased cost to those who would be unable to use the river for shipping.”

On labor and immigration…

“We need a workable guest worker program that will provide migrant workers at certain times of the year. E-Verify can be problematic although it might be constructed in a way where it provides some benefit.”

More on agriculture labor here.

“We don’t need to put the employer in the position of being the police.

“Immigration will continue to be a big topic. We’ll do everything we can to ensure the producers have the migrant work power they need to provide the food, fiber and shelter that everyone expects.”