North Dakota farmers and ranchers, struggling against rock bottom crop prices, have their eyes on a new Farm Bill to maintain the federal programs that help keep their operations going in tough times.
“There’s a strong sense of need for a 2018 Farm Bill,” said Dale Ihry, executive director of the North Dakota Corn Growers Association. “There’s more emphasis now on needing a Farm Bill when prices are low.”
But passage of major legislation, such as the Farm Bill, has proven difficult in recent history. Prior to the 2014 Farm Bill, the last Farm Bill passed was in 2008.
To prepare, the corn growers held four meetings in the eastern half of the state last week in an effort to gauge what growers would like to see in U.S. farm policy going into the next presidential administration. These issues will be shared with the corn growers’ national organization to form the group’s policy and lobbying agenda.
“There’s just going to be a push in Congress to take a look at another Farm Bill,” Dan Wogsland, executive director of the North Dakota Grain Growers Association, said about his conversations with North Dakota’s congressional delegation, echoing Ihry’s sentiments.
At the top of producers’ priority list are tweaks and maintenance of crop insurance, “mainly because we’re such a heavily insured state,” Ihry said. “What we’re hearing from farmers is we have to keep that program to the degree we can."
And, hopefully, make it better. One suggestion for improvement is a change in how payments are calculated for the more popular Agriculture Risk Coverage insurance program.
The ARC-CO payment structure is based on a particular crop’s average yield in a county. That average yield is combined with the average price for a crop over the previous five marketing years to come up with a revenue guarantee. Payments are triggered if revenue in the county falls below that guarantee.
Currently, the U.S. Department of Agriculture ARC uses USDA National Agricultural Statistics Service surveys to determine yields. But commodity organizations say issues with the survey’s sampling methods and criteria result in inaccurate or inconsistent results.
“A lot of farmers would like Risk Management Agency yields used,” Ihry said.
Because more than 90 percent of farmers are insured under RMA, which requires annual production and yield reporting, results would be more accurate.
“The 2014 Farm Bill has had a lot of successes,” Ihry said, pointing to the ARC program which paid out $200 million to North Dakota farmers for the 2014 crop year and $400 million in 2015.
Ihry said the concern is whether the program will provide enough protection in the next three years as prices flatline.
Should a 2018 Farm Bill get passed, Ihry and Wogsland said they’re operating on the assumption it would involve tweaks to the 2014 legislation, not a major overhaul as seen in the previous bill.
Other programs discussed by farmers include the Conservation Reserve Program, wetland management and trade and research programs.
Ihry said corn growers discussed whether the current number of acres allowed in CRP — 24 million acres — was too much of a reduction compared to the previous 30 million acres allowed, as acres available for enrollment were in high demand.
“A lot tried to get in last time during the sign up,” Ihry said. “Not as many got enrolled as wanted in.”
Wogsland said, as half of the wheat grown in North Dakota goes overseas, maintaining dollars for trade programs — particularly the Foreign Market Development Program and the Market Access Program — are priorities.
The corn growers is holding its annual convention in Fargo on Feb. 8 and preparing for a national meeting in March. Those growers who can’t attend meetings to weigh in on Farm Bill priorities can fill out an online survey at www.ndcorn.org.