Farmers and ranchers say bioenergy and the structure of safety net programs are top of mind as the next farm bill is debated. That’s according to more than 15,000 farmers and ranchers in 27 states that Farm Foundation’s National Public Policy Education Committee surveyed recently.

Producers ranked renewable energy, enhancing opportunities for small and beginning farmers, and assuring a safe and affordable food supply as their top three goals for the next farm bill.

Bioenergy production incentives, followed closely by food safety programs, lead the program list that producers would target for new or reallocated funding. When asked to rank existing programs that should continue to receive funding, respondents put disaster-assistance programs at the top, followed closely by other safety-net tools and some conservation programs.

“This suggests that the next farm bill debate may include extensive discussion over expansion of the existing energy title, as well as debate over the interests and objectives of safety-net programs,” says Brad Lubben, University of Nebraska, who chaired the task force conducting the survey. Perhaps we’ll see movement toward a single, wider safety net rather than a commodity-specific one, he adds.

“The survey is designed to address policy alternatives and identify underlying policy goals and budget priorities,” says Farm Foundation President Walter Armbruster. The 27 states where producers were surveyed represent 60 percent of all U.S. farms and ranches. The survey included national, regional and state-specific questions.

After disaster assistance and crop insurance, priorities for existing programs included working-land conservation programs, marketing loans, direct payments and countercyclical payments.

“Among commercial-scale producers, the farm-income safety net was the No.1 existing program area for continued support,” Lubben reports. “The existing three-part safety net—direct payments, countercyclical payments and marketing loans—is only part of a larger five-part safety net that includes crop insurance and disaster assistance, which historically have not been part of the farm bill. We may see debate on a formal title to address this larger safety net and what seem like annual calls for disaster assistance.”

Producers with medium- to large-size operations placed a high priority on the safety net, while producers with smaller operations wanted working-land conservation programs. “Small farms likely see a larger potential benefit from conservation programs than from existing commodity programs,” says Lubben. “This difference in priorities may further the debate over program payments and recipients, as well as creating different programs for different farm types or sizes.”

Support payments tied to farm income, biosecurity incentives, farm-savings-account incentives, traceability and certification programs also received producer support for new or reallocated funds.

Here are other key survey findings:

  • Payment limits enjoy support among all categories of farms, but support is greater among small farms than large farms.
  • Producers surveyed in seven states favor a fruit and vegetable support program but not necessarily one modeled on traditional commodity programs. Instead they prioritize disaster assistance, crop insurance and block grants for state programs.
  • Respondents support technical and financial assistance to address conservation goals, particularly water quality and soil erosion control measures. Producers value continued support for the Conservation Reserve Program and the Conservation Security Program.
  • Respondents support free-trade negotiations and expanded-trade opportunities. However, they also favor comprehensive negotiations that include food-safety, labor and conservation issues. They favor negotiations that focus on domestic policy goals ahead of trade policy goals.
  • Producers favor country-of-origin labeling and prefer mandatory options over voluntary ones. Producers support mandatory animal-identification programs. They also favor BSE testing, with preference for voluntary testing guidelines versus government-mandated programs.
  • When asked about the expected future transition of their farm or ranch, more than 50 percent expected the transition would be to a family member.
  • Producers surveyed in three states supported agricultural-credit programs, putting the highest priority on beginning-farmer programs.

Producers were surveyed in the following states: Alabama, Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Georgia, Idaho, Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, Maryland, Michigan, Missouri, Montana, Nebraska, New Jersey, New York, North Carolina, Ohio, Oregon, Pennsylvania, South Dakota, Texas, Utah, Vermont, Washington, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

Farm Foundation will make educational materials available on alternatives for addressing the entire range of topics covered under the farm bill. They will be available later this year.

Farm Foundation works as a catalyst, bringing various segments together; it does not lobby or advocate positions.

The report is posted on the Farm Foundation Web site, at www.farmfoundation.org

Source: Farm Foundation