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Ag commissioner: New farm bill is tolerable

The new Farm Bill, though imperfect, is acceptable, North Dakota’s agriculture commissioner said.

“Given the current atmosphere, I’m glad we got it. Would you like more? Yeah,” Doug Goehring said.

He also expressed concern that securing a new Farm Bill in five years will prove even more difficult.

Goehring met Feb. 12 with Agweek and The Grand Forks Herald.

The Farm Bill, the centerpiece of U.S. farm and food policy, was signed into law on Feb. 7. The legislation was delayed for nearly two years because Congress couldn’t reach agreement.

Goehring said he likes a number of things about the law, including increased research funding for specialty crops.

“It fits beautifully in North Dakota,” where farmers raise many specialty crops such as dry beans and barley, he said.

Continuation of the U.S. sugar program and funding for trade programs that promote U.S. agricultural products overseas also are positive aspects of the new Farm Bill, he said.

One component that Goehring dislikes is linking crop insurance and conservation compliance, which he called “bothersome.”

Now, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is working to develop details of how the law will be implemented. USDA officials say the process will take time.

Inevitably, some details will have “unexpected consequences” that cause problems for farmers, Goehring said.

Goehring, like many in agriculture, is especially interested in a new provision designed to help farmers cope with low prices or low revenue.

“People are confused by how that’s going to work. Honestly, I’m confused about how that’s going to work,” he said.

Under the provision, farmers will need to make a one-time choice between agricultural risk coverage, which protects against falling revenue, and price loss coverage, which provides payments when crop prices fall below levels set in the farm bill.

“Once you sign into it, you’re stuck. They’re not giving you an opportunity to back out,” he said.

Both programs are separate from the federal crop insurance program.

Farmers need to follow details of the two options as they’re released by USDA. Farmers also will need to consult with specialists when deciding which option to choose, Goehring said.

The newly approved Farm Bill will expire in five years. Farmers and farm group officials will start working on new legislation in three or four years.

Critics of the newly signed law will raise the same objections about the next Farm Bill, and those objections may be even harder to overcome, Goehring said.