Suffolk producers await new Farm Bill

Published 10:11 pm Thursday, August 9, 2012

Pausing briefly from the annual ritual of preparing the combine for harvest, Suffolk farmer David Bosselman said crop insurance support needs to be maintained in the 2012 Farm Bill, which is currently stalled in the U.S. Senate.

Getting the combine in order for harvest is an annual ritual for farmers like Suffolk’s David Bosselman. A five-year ritual is awaiting the results of Farm Bill negotiations in Washington.

The current Farm Bill, hashed out in 2008, expires this year, and lawmakers are haggling over major changes to the law, including ending direct payments to farmers, consolidating programs and slashing funding in some areas.

“We want to know how things are going to go and what kind of programs are going to be available, because it’s going to affect our decisions,” said Bosselman, who farms 1,700 acres of cotton, soybeans, corn, peanuts and wheat in Suffolk and Isle of Wight County.

Email newsletter signup

“But the biggest thing is crop insurance.”

The House and Senate both have their own versions of the Farm Bill. The version passed by the Senate in June would allow farmers to purchase additional insurance coverage on area yield and loss basis.

The bill also includes separate revenue protection for cotton and peanut growers, but eliminates counter-cyclical payments, which benefit producers when average commodity prices fall below targets.

The House adjourned for the summer without passing its Farm Bill, which is similar to the Senate version.

Both versions claim to protect crop insurance allocations, presenting a target for lawmakers under pressure to cut funding.

Bosselman said he collected so much crop insurance in the past two years due to poor growing conditions, “the insurance companies did a triple audit.” He says he wouldn’t be able to keep farming without insurance assistance.

He believes Congress will not pass a bill before the presidential election in November.

“What I say is, look, they’re probably not going to do a darn thing till after the election this year,” he said. “They’ll see who’s in control and go from there.”

According to Mike Griffin, who farms 1,800 acres in Suffolk and Isle of Wight with dad Jimmy Griffin, “I doubt very seriously they will get a new Farm Bill until after the election.

“Congress hasn’t demonstrated they can reach an agreement on anything else, and I don’t expect the Farm Bill to be any different.”

Griffin said crop insurance is important to the nation. “A good example of that is going on right now in the Midwest,” where drought is decimating crop yields, he said.

“They would be lost without crop insurance, and the world would be lost without U.S. agriculture.”

Broadly, the Farm Bill also governs conservation, nutrition, trade and energy policy.  Griffin said, “A lot of our citizens don’t realize that the Farm Bill encompasses way more than agriculture. Only about 15-20 percent of the money in the Farm Bill is actually allocated for farmers.”

He said that the media often paints farmers as demanding more than their fair share, which he doesn’t believe is an accurate depiction.

“Agriculture in this country makes up a little more than 15 percent of GDP (Gross Domestic Product), and we do that with less than 1½ percent of the total federal budget,” he said.

For Griffin, 2010-2011 was “one of the worst years I remember in my lifetime.” But 2012 is looking better.

“We certainly had a rough start,” he said. “We had rain almost every week in the month of May — that’s planting time, and have a very narrow window, especially for cotton and peanuts. We got off to a late start, but the weather we have had this summer has been very good. We have had some pretty timely rainfall in most areas.”