The Senate Agriculture Committee held its first Farm Bill field hearing last week in Michigan. Fifteen people testified, including Michigan Corn Growers Association President Clark Gerstackerk, a fourth-generation row crop farmer.
Gerstacker has utilized a variety of Farm Bill programs for his operation, including crop insurance, Average Crop Revenue Election and the Conservation Reserve Program. He says the timing and complexity involved with the ACRE program made it difficult for farmers to understand and move forward, but added that ACRE is a viable program. He believes risk management tools are essential for farmers and need to be maintained in the 2012 Farm Bill, although he says there are some changes that could be made.
"Faced with the growing national debt and budget constraints across the board, I realize that some of these bills may be changed in the next Farm Bill," Gerstacker said. "I do feel that risk management program such as ACRE and crop insurance are absolutely vital and can not be lost in the next farm bill. The ACRE program as an example can be made more efficient and useful to farmers by increasing the timeliness of payments and bringing program triggers closer to the farm."
Gerstacker says doing so can help bridge the gaps in the current Farm Bill programs. He says programs also should strive to be producer-based, not landowner-based, to ensure the programs assist the farmers who assume the risk. Farmers are providing feed and fuel for a growing world population Gerstacker pointed out and they face many risks and challenges.
"We face increasingly tumultuous markets that rise and fall with the wind," Gerstacker said. "At the same time that we encounter ever-changing market opportunities, farmers also face higher input costs such as seed, fertilizer and fuel, all of which are necessary components of a year's harvest."
Not to mention the uncertainty of weather, which Gerstacker notes is out of the farmer's control and can present a make-it or break-it factor for crops.
That's why Gerstacker says farmers need access to affordable risk management tools to lessen the impact of crop losses and price declines and why the 2012 Farm Bill is so important.
"It's not about providing income to less than 2% of the population that farms," Gerstacker said. "It is about ensuring that the same 2% can continue to provide affordable food for the other 98% of Americans who rely on them."
By improving the risk management tools, Gerstacker says the best possible safety net can be provided for America's farmers and the American food supply.