By Jamison Cocklin
The U.S. Senate has passed a farm bill with vast implications for an Ohio industry that generates more than $93 billion for the state economy.
Industry experts and trade associations across Ohio say they support the $500 billion bill that eliminates direct payments to farmers and instead boosts a “critical” aspect of the legislation by strengthening safety nets such as crop insurance.
The bill, which for many months was tied up as lawmakers tacked on amendments, was approved 64-35 June 21. Now, the bill moves to the House, where members are expected to begin considering it later this week.
The Senate version will save taxpayers $23 billion, mostly by eliminating direct subsidies to farmers. It will also reduce the bureaucracy involved in many farming programs because lawmakers agreed on streamlining certain processes and eliminating some programs.
Direct subsidies now will be replaced by a market-based system that relies on current crop-year data, market prices and actual yields. It will pay farmers only when the market fails, thus preventing farmers from collecting on crops they may have not planted.
Tadd Nicholson, executive director of the Ohio Corn and Wheat Growers Association, said his group is more than satisfied with the bill.
“Unlike other industries, there are inherent risks to farming, even if you do everything right,” he said. “Some things are just beyond control, and that’s where the reforms to the safety net in this bill are so crucial.”
Nicholson said, as a whole, the Ohio farming industry was moving away from the “subsidy-type” programs anyway. But he cautioned that hurdles still lie ahead when the bill goes to the House.
“When it goes to the House Agricultural Committee, the chairman is from Oklahoma and has different views on farming from those in Ohio,” Nicholson said. “There are different [farming] risks in Oklahoma than there are in Ohio. Some of the policies he suggests might not be favorable to farmers here.”
When the bill moves from the committee, it will go to conference, where lawmakers from both chambers of Congress must resolve differences in each version of the farm bills.
This is also a concern, said Yvonne Lesicko, the senior director of legislative and regulatory affairs at the Ohio Farm Bureau.
“The time line is critical to us and we’re down to the wire,” she said. “It’s important that it passes so that everyone knows what programs will be available, because many farmers are already making plans for next year.”
The current law expires Sept. 30, which concerns many in the industry, as Congress will leave for August recess and not return until mid-September.
Nicholson said it’s important that the law is passed by the time the current law expires, so the baseline funds included in many of the programs under the law remain available.
If not, Nicholson said, those funds will be significantly “reduced” until a new law is passed.
Farming remains Ohio’s No. 1 industry, employing 1 in 7 people in the state, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture. In all, Ohio has 13.7 million acres of farmland with crops consuming 10.8 million acres.
Experts said that if the bill stays largely intact, then Ohio’s 74,700 farms can look forward to stronger crop insurance policies and five years of consistency, until Congress is required to pass a renewed farm bill.
“This bipartisan, Senate-passed bill is the most significant reform of U.S. agriculture in decades,” wrote U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, shortly after the bill passed the Senate. “This farm bill is a jobs and innovation bill, an economic relief and development bill, and it affects every American every day.”