By Kermit Rowe
The best way to sum up the reaction of area farmers to the passage of a new five-year, $1 trillion farm bill by the House of Represen-tatives last week is a collective sigh of relief.
Years of delays, political haggling and extensions might finally be coming to an end soon. The new farm bill is now in the Senate’s hands, where it is expected to pass, and President Obama has said he would sign it once it hits his desk. The timeline for that is still uncertain.
“I’m glad they finally passed it,” said Bill Agle, who has been farming in eastern Clark County since he graduated from Ohio State University in the mid-1970s. “We need to have some security and know what our programs are going to be, what our crop insurance will be like. We need to make some plans for the future and not be at the mercy of the whims of the government
Tom Tullis, an Urbana farmer for over a half-century and a Champaign County fair board member, couldn’t agree more.
“It gives a farmer the insight of what’s coming down the road in terms of what you have to deal with, what you have to plan for, what kind of safety net you have or don’t have. Budgeting for crop insurance is a very large expense anymore,” he said.
“You need to know where to put your money at for the future.”
The passage of the bill, which includes the nation’s food stamp program, had been delayed for over two years.
“It’s been a long process, to get everybody working together and getting something concrete settled,” said Adam Ward, the executive director of the Ohio Soybean Association and a Champaign County native. He grew up on a farm near Westville, and his grandfather, father and two brothers still farm in the area.
“Speaking for the Ohio Soybean Association and for Ohio farmers in general, we’ve been pushing for some change in how policy is being written. It’s a changing business, and some policy has really become outdated. (The new farm bill) really is putting more emphasis on the crop insurance, which is very important to all of us.
“This is good for agricultural business in the long run.”
The Agricultural Act of 2014, the official name of the new bill, is expected to save taxpayers $16.6 billion over 10 years. Wednesday’s voting in the House was largely bipartisan.
The new farm bill ends so-called direct payments, which are subsidies paid to farmers whether they farm or not. The cost of the program had been estimated to be as high as $4.5 billion a year.
The new bill also includes stricter limits on how much money farmers can receive per year, now $125,000 annually on all payments and loans.
“That can be really a useful tool, especially for the young or newer farmer and when the markets are tight and the prices are low,” said Tullis.
The bill even includes a test program allowing 10 states to grow industrial hemp.
“The farmers don’t want any part of that,” said Tullis with a chuckle. “The farmers that want that are probably the 3- to 5-acre patch farmers, the smaller farmers.”