Listening session held on new farm bill

Karol B. Osborne  |  10/3/2017 8:47:18 PM

(10/03/17) RAYVILLE, La. — Although the current farm bill goes a long way in meeting different commodity needs, much can be improved, LSU AgCenter agricultural economist Mike Salassi said at an agriculture listening session held on Sept. 29.

Organized by U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham, R-Alto, the meeting was the first listening session in the region. The meeting brought together of agriculture leaders from government and industry to gather information to aid in crafting the 2018 Farm Bill.

Salassi, who heads the LSU College of Agriculture Agricultural Economics and Agribusiness department, spoke during the listening session’s first panel discussion with other governmental and state leaders, including Louisiana Department of Agriculture and Forestry Commissioner Mike Strain, state Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Francis Thompson, D-Delhi, Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation President Ronnie Anderson, and state representatives John F. “Andy” Anders, D-Vidalia, and Charles R. “Bubba” Chaney, R-Rayville.

“Every dollar’s worth of agricultural income, whether from the market or farm programs, is spent two or three times in the economy, so it is important for a farm bill to keep rural communities viable,” Salassi said.

Abraham, who is Louisiana’s only member of the U.S. House Agriculture Committee, called agriculture our “thin green line,” important for national security, food security and economic security.

Salassi said the value of agriculture and forestry production in Louisiana varies from $10 billion to $13 billion, a revenue generated annually that does not include farm program payments.

Because the Louisiana agriculture sector is one of the most diverse in the country, Salassi called for greater flexibility in the new farm bill and added that any changes or provisions should not limit growers’ choices in how base acreage, specifically generic base acres, could be handled.

Salassi noted that improper comparisons are often used in evaluating farm program equity across commodities.

He explained that price loss coverage (PLC) reference prices are paid on 85 percent of base program acres, not planted acres, and on program yield, which is less than actual yield. Growers are paid on less than actual planted acres and less on actual production, so their effective support price is less than the stated reference price.

Salassi also identified several issues with analysts or groups using U.S. Department of Agriculture cost of production commodity estimates to represent growers’ production costs. The estimates do not include market and storage costs; labor expenses for meals, transportation and housing not directly related with field work; or grower income payments. “They represent sector costs and returns for all entities: producers, landlords and contractors,” he said.

“The relationship between the agricultural sector revenue and production cost is probably not the same as what growers face,” he said.

Abraham said the written testimonies given at the meeting will be highlighted and included in the House Agriculture Committee hearings. Hearings are currently underway, and Abraham expects the farm bill to be “on time, on target” for December 2018.

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LSU AgCenter agricultural economist Mike Salassi (right) joins Louisiana agriculture experts in panel discussions on key issues to be considered in crafting the new 2018 farm bill during an agricultural listening session organized by U.S. Rep. Ralph Abraham. The meeting brought together about 200 agriculture leaders from across the state. Pictured with Salassi (from left) are state Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Francis Thompson, D-Delhi, and Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation President Ronnie Anderson. Photo by Karol Osborne/LSU AgCenter

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