Farm support: Brown seeks passage of 5-year bill

With drought conditions likely resulting in crop failure and drying up any cash reserves set aside by Ohio farmers, Democratic U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown called on members of the U.S. House of Representatives to match the U.S. Senate and pass their  five-year farm bill instead of the House’s “fairly pathetic” one-year deal.

“This year’s drought has jeopardized in a big way Ohio farmers’ production,” Brown said Wednesday during a media teleconference with state-wide media. “The USDA research service notes this is the most severe, extensive drought in the past 25 years. What looked to be a bumper crop in the spring, as corn farmers and soybean farmers expected a big crop because of the timing of the planting and the moisture in the ground — the conditions all worked perfectly in their favor and then it stopped raining.

“While this year’s weather is extreme, farmers face the prospect every year of bad weather and through the roundtables I have conducted in the state Ohioans have told me over and over again, ‘We need a strong farm bill,’ ” the Congressman said. “We (Senate) passed a five-year farm bill in June. The Senate bill includes a strong, fiscally responsible safety net where we would save  over $23 billion to American taxpayers over the next 10 years by eliminating the direct payments.”

The Senate farm bill also enhances crop insurance and strengthens conservation efforts, too, Brown said. The proposed legislation would help livestock producers and farmers during times of drought and fruit and vegetable growers during frosts and freezes.

He trumpeted the Senate’s five-year version since it has bipartisan support and has gained the backing of numerous agricultural groups.

He noted the five-year bill provides long-term certainty for farmers and producers.

“Farmers and livestock producers need certainty to plan and manage their businesses and they are not going to get it from the weather,” said Brown, who serves as chair of the Subcommittee on Jobs, Rural Economic Growth and Energy Innovation, and is the first Ohioan on the Senate Agriculture Committee in more than 40 years. “Although USDA (U.S. Department of Agriculture) resources help some Ohioans get back on their feet, passing the Senate farm bill reauthorizes critical disaster programs which expired last year and makes much-needed reforms by building on crop insurance and creating a safety net to assist farmers when prices drop or when natural disaster strikes.”

Brown said the Senate version is far better than the “fairly pathetic” effort of the House.

“I’m supportive of a farm bill,” Republican U.S. Sen. Rob Portman told the Columbus Dispatch. “I’m just not supportive of one that doesn’t make any reforms or changes to 80 percent of the spending, which is on the food-stamp program.”

The House is working on a one-year stop gap with further cuts to programming, mostly to food programs for the poor and disadvantaged.

Brown said the Senate version, passed June 22, would help Ohio farmers, especially this year when 98 percent of the state is experiencing moderate to severe drought conditions.

The Ohio State University climatologist Jeff Rogers, who joined Brown on the call, said Defiance, Fulton, Paulding, Van Wert and Williams counties have experienced extreme drought and are now eligible for USDA farm programs, such as Farm Service Agency emergency loans and lower interest rates.

Rogers said the last significant rainfall for the state was June 27, and while trace amounts of rain has fallen since that time, it is in the top layer of the soil and tends to evaporate quickly. He noted the same scenario is likely for rainfall expected to hit the state this weekend.

Extended forecasts for the fall call for continued dry conditions with above average temperatures, Rogers said.

While in past cycles, the winter after a drought is typically filled with large amounts of snow and a rainy spring, Rogers said experts are predicting continuing dry conditions through the winter and into next spring.

Champaign County corn and soybean producer Alex Ward said the drought conditions this year have been made worse by the extreme heat which will likely reduce his corn crop yields by more than 50 percent. The drought and heat hit when the corn tasseled and there was nothing on the cob to germinate.

If rains come in the next couple of weeks, as forecasted this weekend, he said he believes the soybean crop may still have a decent year since it is a hardier plant.

He said consumers will likely see the effects of this at the grocery store in March and April 2013.

Brown said the farm bill would benefit more than farmers and producers, but all Ohioans.

“This farm bill is so important to all of us, this disaster-relief program is so important because the existing farm bill expires Sept. 30,” Brown said. “Ohio farmers need a long-term farm bill to survive through this summer’s drought and into the future.”