Iowa farmers prioritize needs in new farm bill

Farm and Food

By Kevin Patrick Allen, Public News Service - Iowa

Iowa plays a large role in the process of creating a farm bill and, with less than one year remaining before the current bill expires, work is underway to draft legislation that will support farmers in the state. 

Sens. Joni Ernst and Chuck Grassley, as well as Rep. Steve King, sit on the agricultural committees that draft the farm bill. 

Anna Johnson, a policy program associate at the Center for Rural Affairs, says initial plans and new ideas are being discussed. The Center already has identified key focus areas that include strong support for conservation. 

"We could be providing incentives for conservation practices like cover crops by offering higher premium subsidies to farmers who practice conservation and have conservation plans in place," she states.

The Environmental Quality Incentives Program (EQIP) and the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) are initiatives that the Center for Rural Affairs maintains should be well funded. The programs offer financial and technical assistance to farmers while tying payments to performance. 

The Center is also pushing for a bill that will support beginning farmers and rural development. 

Johnson says it's clear that a level playing field doesn't exist for small farmers competing with much larger counterparts. She stresses that issue can be addressed, in part, by adjusting crop insurance payments and the method used to determine those payments. 

"We're concerned about farm consolidation in the rural communities, so we are proposing that in the next farm bill, Congress cap the crop insurance premium subsidy per farm at $50,000 per operation," she says.

Johnson argues that crop insurance should provide a basic level of support, particularly to small and mid-size farms, rather than disproportionately benefiting farmers with the most acreage. 

The current farm bill will expire Sept. 30, 2018.

The first farm bill was created in 1933 and provided subsidies to farmers during the Great Depression. 

Farm bills are drafted every five years to govern a variety of agriculture programs across the country.

Photo courtesy of USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service