Senators push for legitimate farm payment limits

Farm Forum

WASHINGTON – On Feb. 12 Senators Chuck Grassley, Tim Johnson, Mike Enzi and Sherrod Brown introduced legislation that would place a hard cap on the farm payments an individual farmer can receive in a year and close long-abused and well-documented loopholes in the farm payment program.

The Farm Program Integrity Act of 2013 mirrors language that was included in the Senate-passed farm and nutrition bill in 2012. The legislation would establish a per farm cap of $50,000 on all commodity program benefits, except those associated with the marketing loan program (loan deficiency payments and marketing loan gains), which would be capped at $75,000. Thus the combined limit would be $125,000, or, for married couples, $250,000. The $50,000 cap would apply to whatever type of program is developed as part of the new Farm Bill. The bill also closes loopholes that currently allow non-farmers to qualify for federal farm payments.

“A strong safety net is critical to ensuring a safe and affordable food supply. The Senate-passed farm bill made some important strides in this area, so it’s important we retain and build on those provisions. Ending some of the most egregious abuses of the farm program will ensure that the farm program payments are going to those who need them most,” Grassley said. “It’s unacceptable that small- and medium-sized farmers get so little of the very program that was created to help them.”

“Ensuring our farm program payments are directed to the small and medium sized family farmers is a concept that folks from both sides of the aisle support. We face a number of difficult budgetary challenges, and establishing a hard cap on payments and closing loopholes within the program will help to reduce the deficit while also reaffirming the legitimacy of our farm programs,” Johnson said.

“The federal government shouldn’t be in the business of sending taxpayer dollars to farm operations who don’t need it,” Enzi said. “This bill would help make the system more reasonable and builds on the substantial reforms Congress has taken to eliminate abuse and provide a farm-safety net to the farmers at greatest risk. I’m pleased we have bi-partisan support for this legislation.

“While big farms get bigger while small and mid-sized family farmers get squeezed,” Brown said. “For too long farm program payments have gone to producers who do not need the support-and sometimes to people who are not involved in farming. The provisions in the Senate-passed farm bill and the bill we are introducing today are common sense solutions designed to ensure assistance is directed to those who need it most.”

Beyond the hard caps on farm payments, The Farm Program Integrity Act of 2013 also includes a provision to begin closing the loopholes that allow people who aren’t involved in farming to collect farm payments. The provision prevents non-farmers from being able to use the management loophole in current law. The bill would define clearly the scope of people who are able to qualify as actively engaged by only providing management for the farming operation. The bill will allow one off-farm manager, but only one. Landowners who share rent land to an actively-engaged producer remain exempt from the “actively engaged” rules provided their payments are commensurate to their risk in the crop produced. This provision will help the Department of Agriculture crack down on the general partnerships that have multiple non-farmers trying to qualify for farm payments by exploiting the management loophole.