Importance of Ag

North Dakota’s agriculture commissioner was in town Tuesday to speak to the Kiwanis Club of Minot about a number of topics.

Doug Goehring summed up the 2013 crop in North Dakota in a single word – rain.

“It rained at all the wrong times. It rained when we were trying to put the crop in, it rained when we were trying take the crop out. We lost 20 percent of our production this year in North Dakota,” Goehring said. “Astounding, though, the fact that we had a full season and other things seemed to align. We’re still going to come out of this with some record bushels per acre in some crops.”

The one question Goehring said he is asked whenever he goes someplace is about the farm bill. Two years into the process, he said some progress is finally being made. He then ran through a few of the big issues everyone seems to be talking about.

The supplemental nutrition assistance program, or SNAP, is going to be the most contentious item in the farm bill, according to Goehring. This is because the House of Representatives made a $20 billion cut in its version of the bill while the Senate cut $4 billion.

“I don’t know where they’re going to find common ground with that, but I believe they are going to. They are going to have to do something because we can’t go another year sitting in limbo as we have been this last year and a half,” Goehring said. “It’s been too much of an issue.”

While SNAP, although reduced, will live on, direct payments are dead.

“They’re gone. Under the new proposal, whether it’s the House or Senate version, direct payments are gone,” Goehring said.

The new crop insurance program is about the same as the old, according to Goehring, although there are some caveats.

One thing looked at was shallow loss, where you’d have a big gap in coverage. There will be some coverage there now.

“Or if you’re down South they may not necessarily be looking at an insurance-type program, they’re looking at revenue programs that are backstops when the market falls and collapses, where crop insurance doesn’t work for them as well,” Goehring said.

Conservation compliance, which is in the Senate version but not the House version, is another big issue in the farm bill.

“It’s contentious, it’s going to be an issue,” Goehring said. “We’ll see how that’s going to actually unfold and transpire.”

The last issue of contention in the farm bill Goehring touched upon was permanent law. At present, if the farm bill expires with no replacement, permanent law from 1938 and 1949 take over.

“What that does is it becomes an issue when you look at what the government is going to have to spend and what the consumer may likely spend for certain food items and certain food products and commodities that are produced, or at least how they’re going to be reimbursed back to producers,” Goehring said.

While the 1938 and 1949 laws don’t in any way reflect the current situation faced by growers and consumers today, Goehring said they’re not in the farm bill to deal with today’s markets. They are still in place solely to scare Congress and made sure it actually does its job and crafts a new farm bill.

Goehring remembered this past December when the farm bill was set to expire Jan. 1, and the media started calling him and asking if farmers were worried.

“I said nope, actually you know who’s calling me? The consumer. Because milk was going to go to $18 to $21 a gallon,” Goehring said. “Some aspects of that permanent law were going to go into effect where it was going to cost Congress a lot of money to have to revert back to that pay on wheat and corn and a few other items because you look at parity. But that’s the hammer in this.”

Goehring said the 1938 and 1949 permanent laws don’t need to be changed to reflect the modern situation because that’s what the farm bill is for. The old law acts as the hammer that forces Congress to get its act together and create a new farm bill.

“It is the hammer, folks, I’ll tell you,” he said.