Farmers Could Get More Accurately Calculated Aid in New Bill

By Teaganne Finn

Farmers hurt by low commodity prices could expect more accurately calculated USDA assistance under a new bipartisan Senate bill.

Senate Agriculture Committee members Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.) and Joni Ernst (R-Iowa) introduced a bill (S.1998) Oct. 24 to change how the existing Agriculture Risk Coverage-County Level program (ARC-CO), a Department of Agriculture-run safety net measure, calculates payments for farmers affected by revenue loss.

ARC-CO, enacted in the 2014 farm bill, gives money to farmers when their crop revenue of a covered commodity is lower than ARC-CO’s guarantee for it.

Under the proposal, payments would be calculated so they reflect what is owed to farmers using data from the county where their farms are located. The 2014 farm bill’s ARC-CO provision solely based payments on the county in which farmers filed for coverage, and not necessarily the county where their farms are located.

Heitkamp successfully petitioned the USDA in 2015 to make the same accuracy adjustment. The new bill, which could be included in the 2018 farm bill, would extend this payment calculation method for five years.

“As I’ve met with producers across our state over the past few months, they have made clear that improvements are necessary to programs like ARC-CO that help our agriculture community get through challenges like drought and low commodity prices,” Heitkamp said.

Tough Times for Farmers

In May 2016, Ernst and Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa) wrote a letter to then-Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack requesting more information regarding the methodology for determining county yields for the ARC-CO program.

The new bill would fulfill Ernst’s initial requests by directing the USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) to use more widely available Risk Management Agency data to show yield calculations and provide FSA state committees discretion to adjust yield data estimates to mitigate variations among neighboring counties.

“This legislation will work to ensure the data and process used by the Farm Service Agency to determine payments to our farmers are not unfairly affected by state or federal boundaries that have no bearing on a farm’s yield,” Ernst said.

Industry proponents support the bill and the ARC-CO program. Data disparities among counties with similar soils and climates have been problematic, National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson said.

The bill would “correct this issue going forward,” he said.

The farm bill is an essential tool to guarantee that growers can recover from setbacks and get back into their fields, North Dakota Grain Growers Association President John Weinand said.

Growers are going through tough times due to adverse weather and economic conditions and “deserve the certainty provided by programs like ARC-CO to know they can get support when they need it,” Weinand said.

Heitkamp wants to make sure bills that aim to protect and strengthen the farm safety net are included in the 2018 farm bill. The bill was referred to the Senate Agriculture Committee.

To contact the reporter on this story: Teaganne Finn in Washington at tfinn@bna.com

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Paul Hendrie at pHendrie@bna.com

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