The Free Press, Mankato, MN

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April 9, 2012

Our View: Let's be reasonable with Farm Bill

— There is broad agreement that the next Farm Bill will contain substantial cuts, but there are wide disagreements on how the important legislation should be crafted.

With the current five-year Farm Bill to expire in September, most agree that direct subsidies to farmers — which sends $5 billion to landowners no matter their income — will be curtailed. But some are angling to simply replace those subsidies with an “insurance” program that would foolishly have taxpayers subsidizing farmers’ income.

Crop insurance has traditionally been touted as a safety net in an industry that is reliant on weather. Under the system, farmers’ private insurance premiums are subsidized and the insurance pays them if they suffer major crop or animal losses.

But some groups are calling for an insurance program in which a majority of the premiums are covered by taxpayers and producers collect insurance payments for even minor losses. Such a program would effectively guarantee an income for producers at a high cost to taxpayers. It’s a gift any business would love.

Fortunately, many groups, including the Farm Bureau, argue that the insurance program should only cover major losses.     

And many critics make a reasonable argument that even the current insurance program is too costly, especially at a time of record farm income and record low debt.

Farm Bill debate is also focusing on how deeply to cut the Food Stamps program and conservation programs.

Minnesota’s influence on the next Farm Bill is significant. U.S. Rep. Collin Peterson is the top Democrat on the House Agriculture committee and Rep. Tim Walz is also on the committee. On the Senate side, Amy Klobuchar serves on the Agriculture Committee.

They and the others on the committees should focus on crafting a less costly Farm Bill that provides a reasonable insurance safety net for catastrophic losses, invests heavily in conservation programs and provides adequate support for food and nutrition programs for children and those in need.

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