Wheat industry says safety net needed to produce cheap, stable food supply

By MATTHEW WEAVER

Capital Press

Crop insurance tops the U.S. wheat industry's priority list when it comes to the 2012 Farm Bill.

The National Association of Wheat Growers recently sent its list of priorities to agriculture committee leaders in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives. In an underlined sentence, association president Wayne Hurst opposed any reduction to the baseline available for crop insurance programs.

A gradual phasedown of the controversial direct payment program would allow farmers, landlords and lenders to adjust, Hurst noted.

Hurst, a farmer in Burley, Idaho, told the Capital Press the Pacific Northwest would agree with the principles outlined in the letter.

Hurst has high hopes for a satisfactory farm bill. The association and other commodity groups agree on the same basic principles, he said.

"We've been told by our representatives in Washington that food security and stability is still important to our government," he said. "I'm pretty confident we can maintain some programs that help retain a safe, viable and relatively cheap supply of food."

Brett Blankenship is national legislation committee chair for the Washington Association of Wheat Growers and chair of the domestic trade policy committee for the national association.

Blankenship has been frustrated that politicians want farmers to produce a cheap, stable food supply for consumers. The only way to do that is with an adequate farm safety net, he said.

"Yet they want to make cuts to that safety net, which will cause a lot of pressure on small to medium-sized producers," he said.

NAWG has been engaged in discussions, Blankenship said, and is currently waiting to see how the congressional deficit supercommittee responds to U.S. House of Representative and Senate agricultural committee recommendations.

"A lot of the devil is in the details, and the details have not been released," he said. "However, a lot of the principals in the discussions are well aware of the needs of their wheat growing constituents. Hopefully that will speak favorably to the concerns of wheat growers."

Travis Jones, executive director of the Idaho Grain Producers Association, said the NAWG priorities are similar to his organization. Hurst is a past president of the Idaho association, Jones noted.

"Our first priority is to ensure there's as robust a budget for the farm safety net as possible," he said. "From there, we will work as best we can on those priority programs that budget funds."

Programs include the Supplemental Revenue Assistance program, an Average Crop Revenue Election program of some sort and crop insurance, Jones said.

Oregon Wheat CEO Blake Rowe said crop insurance also tops his state's priorities, followed by support for foreign market development and market access programs, which NAWG supports at current levels.

Rowe expects a much smaller farm support program than previously.

"It doesn't mean it can't work, but if you disagree with the whole deficit reduction premise, then you could be pretty unhappy with what you see," he said.

Rowe said the Oregon organization has heard from political staffers that it's not desirable to have the farm bill hit the floor of the House and Senate in today's economic climate.

"'The deficit-reduction process is probably the best package on the farm bill you're going to get,'" Rowe said his organization was told. "'If this effort fails and the farm bill has to move as a stand-alone item on the floor of the House and Senate, it probably will give you a worse answer.'"

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