Anthony Bush, Vice President of the Ohio Corn and Wheat Growers Association (OCWGA), is currently serving as the Chairmen of the NCGA Public Policy Action Team that has spearheaded a national effort to shape the next farm bill. We recently had the chance to talk with him on the subject. The complete Q&A will be featured in the October issue of Ohio’s Country Journal.
OCJ: The OCWGA made quit a stir at the last Commodity Classic with regard to shaping the National Corn Growers Association (NCGA) Policy on commodity title programs for the next farm bill. Could you share some of the background and the official policy resulting from that meeting?
Anthony: I was part of a small group of board members that last winter made a trip to Indianapolis, Indiana. The idea was to sit down with other State organizations and have a discussion about what we really believed in. And what came out of that meeting was a list of “guiding principles” that we used to help shape our policy recommendations. One of our principles was that, “we believe inefficient spending should be eliminated from all sectors of the Federal Government.” Before we ask other sectors of Government spending to examine their programs, we felt that we should examine our own and offer up policy that fits with our beliefs. OCWGA’s board took this seriously and offered the following as a resolution to our delegates: “NCGA will actively pursue transitioning Direct Payments into programs that trigger only when a loss occurs.” This was met with a lively debate on the floor and ultimately failed, but only by a narrow margin. Immediately following the session, OCWGA was approached by several States that wanted to work with us in crafting the language that did pass by an overwhelming majority. The new resolution reads: “NCGA will investigate transitioning direct payments into programs that allow producers the ability to manage risk while assuring food security.”
OCJ: What were the next steps taken after the idea became official NCGA policy?
Anthony: After Commodity Classic, it was my action team that was charged with investigating or developing a program that transitions direct payments into a revenue based safety net. We immediately began researching what would fit the needs of our members. Our members told us that they wanted a program that would protect them from multiple years of revenue losses due to circumstances beyond their control but would compliment federal crop insurance, not compete against it. We began work on a concept that builds on the successes of the current Average Crop Revenue Election (ACRE) program. Our members also told us to simplify the program so that it would have greater participation rates.
OCJ: You have taken a leadership role on this issue, but many others in Ohio and around the country have been working with this as well. Who are some of the other key players in this collaborative effort and what have they contributed?
Anthony: We immediately sought the help of some of our best land grant Universities. Carl Zulauf from The Ohio State University and Gary Schnitkey from the University of Illinois are, in my opinion, two of the best economists in the country. They both have been very forward thinking in there approach to build that “21st century safety net.” Schnitkey has developed a very sophisticated computer model to help us analyze different proposals and their ability to deliver payments when producers need them most as well as research the budget impacts of a program.
OCJ: In just the past few weeks, great strides have been made within NCGA on their recommendations for the farm bill. What are some of the recent highlights of this progress?
Anthony: On Sept. 2, the NCGA board of directors voted unanimously to support the recommendations of my team. That afternoon we laid out in detail the plan that we are calling Agriculture Disaster Assistance Program (ADAP), which we believe simplifies the current ACRE program and replaces the current Direct Payment program while also saving money for budget reduction. Highlights of the plan include:
1. Crop specific (same as ACRE).
2. Use harvest prices (ACRE uses a season average price).
3. Guarantee and payment based on Crop Reporting Districts (CRD) rather than State triggers.
4. Guarantee based on 5-year Olympic average of revenue.
5. Guarantee = 95% of the 5-year Olympic average of revenue rather than 90% of the current ACRE program.
6. Maximum payment of 10% of the guarantee rather than ACRE s 25%.
7. Movement of the guarantee would not be limited up or down. Current ACRE allows for 10% up or down per year.
8. Payments would be based on Planted Acres instead of base Acres.
9. Payments would be adjusted to a farms yield the same as ACRE.
10. Like ACRE, a farm would have to experience a crop revenue loss to receive a payment.
11. ADAP would restore loan rates to current levels. ACRE requires a 30% reduction in loan rates for participating in the program.
OCJ: What are the next steps NCGA will take in getting this in the hands of lawmakers?
Anthony: On Sept. 2, at a roundtable discussion held at the shop of OCWGA board member Mark Drewes, we unveiled the ADAP program for Senator Sherrod Brown as well as Joe Shultz from the Senate Ag Committee staff. Now our Washington DC staff and our farmer lobbyist will take this to Capitol Hill for review by the respective committees.
OCJ: Why is this type of action from NCGA so important?
Anthony: NCGA felt there was a sense of urgency to get our proposal out in front of the Super Committee that Ohio’s own Senator Rob Portman serves on. The Ag Committees have been given a mid-October deadline to submit recommendations for consideration. NCGA realizes that the scoring process by the Congressional Budget office takes time, but is critical to what ultimately becomes law.
OCJ: What is the key message farmers need to know about the current farm bill debate?
Anthony: The key message that I would like farmers to know is that budget cuts are coming and they are going to hurt. We can no longer just kick the can down the road. Currently, about 40 cents of every dollar our government spends is borrowed. The ADAP program that NCGA has proposed is not a lucrative program; it is a true safety net that would be there when producers need it most. I will leave you with a quote from Sir Winston Churchill who said “Gentleman we have run out of money, now we have to think.” This about sums up the current farm bill debate.
For more from Bush, see “A conversation with…” in the October issue of Ohio’s Country Journal.