DONNELLY, ELLSWORTH: SUBCOMMITTEE APPROVES FARM FLEX PILOT PROGRAM IN 2007 FARM BILL
Today, the Agriculture Subcommittee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management held a mark-up of the farm bill's Commodity Title. During consideration, the Subcommittee approved an amendment to include a Planning Flexibility Pilot Program at the request of Congressmen Brad Ellsworth and Joe Donnelly.
"Indiana farmers made it clear that having the flexibility to decide what crops to plant and where was important to them," said Ellsworth. "As a member of the Commodities Subcommittee, I was pleased to offer this amendment on behalf of myself and Congressman Donnelly. While we are glad to see a pilot program for Indiana farmers approved at the Subcommittee level, this is just the first step. We've still got a long road ahead of us. We will continue to advocate for this program and Indiana farmers as work on the Farm Bill progresses."
"Congressman Ellsworth and I heard from numerous farmers in our districts that there is a genuine need for this greater planting flexibility," Donnelly said. "I'm pleased that we were able to advocate for allowing Hoosier farmers to plant more acres of specialty crops, like tomatoes, and bring their needs to the attention of the chairman and the committee as a whole."
The pilot program, which is limited to 10,000 acres in Indiana, would allow farmers to plant tomatoes on base acresthose acres which are eligible for crop subsidieswithout penalty. In order to participate in the program, growers must have a contract to grow tomatoes for processing and must grow tomatoes as part of a crop rotation designed to achieve pest and disease management benefits.
Under current law, farmers who wish to grow fruits and vegetables on base acres must forfeit their land's base classification, disqualifying the land from ever receiving subsidies on program crops produced on that land. These planting restrictions pose a significant challenge to farmers who have traditionally grown tomatoes in rotation with soybeans. Because soybeans are considered a program crop, many farmers are unable to produce tomatoes without paying this significant and permanent penalty.
Under the pilot program, participating farmers will forgo farm payments in the year that that they produce tomatoes with the understanding that the land will remain eligible for crop payments in subsequent years. The pilot program, as written in the subcommittee's Commodities Title, will sunset with the Farm Bill in 2012.
After being approved by the subcommittee, the pilot program must be approved by a vote of the full Agriculture Committee. If approved, it will become part of the larger farm bill considered by the entirety of the House later this year.
The Senate and the House must each create and pass their own Farm Bill every five years. The two bodies then meet to negotiate a final version in a conference committee. That final version is then sent back to each legislative body and if approved, the bill is sent to the president for his signature.