Senate Agriculture Committee held farm bill hearings last week, marking its fourth in a series. This one focused on “Risk Management and Commodities in the 2012 Farm Bill,” specifically the discussion centered on the need for and cost effectiveness of risk-management tools for farmers and the federal government's potential role.

As federal deficit concerns continue and USDA resources become increasingly limited, Senate committee chairwoman Debbie Stabenow, D-Mich., pointed to improving crop insurance and remodeling farm programs as priorities. In fact, Stabenow said the “era of direct payments” for U.S. farmers is over. Instead, she noted that programs should “help producers who have suffered a loss on the crops they actually grow,” and she will make that a personal goal.

"I have heard again and again from farmers and ranchers across the country that crop insurance is the most important risk management tool," Stabenow said. "It is absolutely imperative that we get these policies right." 

Testimony ranged from farmers to commodity organizations to other stakeholders, the common denominator was that witnesses cited the need to improve risk-management tools as a way to keep producing a safe and inexpensive food supply for the United States and the world, reports the National Pork Producers Council.

Michael Scuse, USDA’s acting undersecretary for farm and foreign agricultural services, testified that federal programs paid more than $10 billion in claims in 2011 due to natural disasters that cause lost revenue and production for impacted farms.

Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., the committee's ranking member, pointed to recent figures showing two-thirds, or more than 250 million acres, of U.S. farmland is protected under the crop insurance program. "The more producers under that crop-insurance tent and protected from disaster, the more stable our food supply and rural economies will be," he added.

President Barack Obama has proposed changes to crop-insurance programs that would account for more than $7.6 billion in savings over the next decade, reports Bloomberg Businessweek.

If completed this year, the 2012 Farm Bill would provide farm policy for the next five years. The current law expires Sept. 30.