Congress approves farm bill fixes

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Congress this week passed several farm bill fixes to make it easier for producers to participate in the bill's disaster assistance program and temporarily suspend the bill's 10-acre provision. The House of representatives first cleared H.R. 6849 Sept. 24, by a voice vote. The Senate approved the bill with amendments and the House cleared the Senate's amended version Monday, Sept. 29. The bill now awaits the President's signature.

H.R. 6849, as amended by the Senate, makes technical corrections to the permanent crop disaster program included in the 2008 Farm Bill. It also temporarily reverses the U.S. Department of Agriculture's published notice regarding the Farm Bill's 10 base-acre provision, which would have denied farm program benefits to hundreds of thousands of producers nationwide by refusing to allow for the aggregation of small base acreage.

USDA's interpretation would eliminate producers from receiving direct, counter cyclical, or ACRE payments, if the farm is 10 acres or less. The manager's report of the farm bill specifically included language to ensure that small farm acreages could be aggregated to allow for farm program payments if the sum of the acres is over 10.

The Senate's version provided a one-year fix rather than a two-year fix as originally proposed last week and as passed in the House. Farmers now have one year to combine these small acre operations with other acres for the purpose of program payment eligibility.

The fix was said to cost $20 million, with funds coming from the Risk Management Agency's information technology fund in order to meet pay-as-you-go requirements.

Disaster provisions

Among the provisions in the disaster program technical corrections bill are:

  • An extension of the waiver for the CAT/NAP purchase requirement for the 2009 crop year for crops with an August 14 or earlier administrative fee payment requirement.
  • An exclusion from the CAT/NAP purchase requirement for portions of the total acreage on a farm that are not of economic significance or for which the administrative fee for those programs exceeds 10% of the value of that coverage.
  • Clarification of the rules pertaining to the treatment of a crop that has been planted subsequent to the failure of the original crop due to weather-related factors.

The National Sorghum Producers Association welcomed the disaster provision fixes which for example would designate uninsured sorghum and other crops planted behind failed first crops as "ghost crops," meaning that the crop's revenue will not reduce a farmer's Supplemental Revenue Assistance Program (SURE) payment.

NSP chairman of the board Toby Bostwick said the measure is important, especially in these uncertain economic times so farmers are not discouraged from planting a second crop at their own risk. "Congress has done the right thing by passing a bill that exempts the value of uninsured second crops from their calculation of revenue in determining disaster payments," he said.

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