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January 18, 2024
Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow, D- Mich., sent a memo to committee colleagues Wednesday spelling out five key principles she says will modernize the farm bill safety net. Those principles include targeting programs to active farmers, giving farmers more choice and flexibility, providing assistance in a timely manner, expanding the reach of programs to help more farmers and addressing the risks that emerging farmers face.
Stabenow says crop insurance is a key tool to meaningfully advance each of those goals.
“Whether I’m talking to farmers at a hearing, field day, or local diner, they all emphasize the importance of crop insurance,” she says. “Over time, we have made meaningful improvements, provided more choices for existing coverage, and expanded its reach to cover more crops, varieties, areas, and types of production.”
According to the Senator, crop insurance is working. She notes that while other programs take years to assist farmers after a disaster, crop insurance has provided nearly $30 billion in “timely support” in 2022 and 2023 so far.
Among other proposals, Stabenow wants provide all commodity groups the option of choosing between traditional base programs and a subsidized, streamlined area-based crop insurance policy. The 2018 Farm Bill gave this option to cotton producers.
To expand crop insurance options and make them more affordable, Stabenow proposes streamlining policies like the Whole Farm Revenue Protection program and the Micro Farm Insurance program. She says she is also open to proposals that would ensure all covered commodities receive an increase under an “effective reference price.”
As with any farm bill proposal, the question always comes back to money. Some Republicans have suggested reallocating nutrition and conservation funding to boost farm programs. However, Stabenow says there will not be enough bipartisan votes to pass her proposals if those programs are cut.
Instead, Stabenow says she is “working creatively” to bring new bipartisan resources into the farm bill. She notes that she is currently working with Senate Ag Committee Ranking Member John Boozman, (R- Ark.) and USDA to double trade promotion programs over the next five years.
“If we act fast, the new farm bill could leverage this one-time action to bump up permanent baseline funding for trade promotion, which has not happened in the previous three farm bills,” Stabenow says. “I also have a commitment from Leader Schumer to work with us to find several billion dollars from outside the farm bill to help us achieve our goals.”
A representative for Sen. Boozman notes that he and Stabenow have yet to reach an agreement on additional trade funding. However, Boozman does believe that funding for the Market Access Program and the Foreign Market Development Program should be increased significantly in a “straightforward manner.”
As for Stabenow, she says choosing the right tools and finding creative solutions will bring meaningful improvements that will benefit all farmers. The soon-to-retire Senator quips that this may be her last farm bill, but it is not her first. If a new bill is to get done this spring, she says the time to get serious is now.
Policy editor, Farm Progress
Joshua Baethge covers a wide range of government issues affecting agriculture. Before joining Farm Progress, he spent 10 years as a news and feature reporter in Texas. During that time, he covered multiple state and local government entities, while also writing about real estate, nightlife, culture and whatever else was the news of the day.
Baethge earned his bachelor’s degree at the University of North Texas. In his free time, he enjoys going to concerts, discovering new restaurants, finding excuses to be outside and traveling as much as possible. He is based in the Dallas area where he lives with his wife and two kids.
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