By Robert Pore
Rep. Adrian Smith, R-Neb., will conduct meetings across the 3rd Congressional District next week to hear from constituents and answer questions about the future of agriculture policy.
In addition, Smith has launched a webpage as a resource for constituents interested in learning more about the next farm bill and his listening tour.
This month's meetings will be:
* Monday, 10 a.m. to 11 a.m. MST at the Farm and Ranch Museum, 2930 M St., Gering
* March 13, 9:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. CST in the Community Building at the Red Willow County Fair Grounds in McCook
* March 14, 9 a.m. to 10 a.m. CST in the Wortman Room of the Aurora Chamber of Commerce, 1604 L St., Aurora
More meetings will be scheduled in April.
Smith said the farm bill is slated to be reauthorized in 2012, but legislation has not yet been drafted. Given the challenges in passing the previous farm bill, he said it is important to start working now.
"Though election-year politics make legislating difficult, there appears to be a strong bipartisan desire to get a farm bill done this year," he said.
Smith said agriculture plays a "fundamental role in the economic future for Nebraska, our country and the entire world."
"Nebraska's farmers and ranchers feed one out of every four Americans and one out of every 13 people worldwide," he said. "It is critical we work to create policies which strengthen American agriculture while implementing a responsible risk management system."
Smith said he has already gotten feedback in the 3rd Congressional District about the upcoming farm bill debate.
"I hear from producers already that they are willing to give up direct payments," he said.
Direct payment subsidies are provided without regard to the economic need of the recipients or the financial condition of the farm economy.
Established in 1996, direct payments were originally meant to wean farmers off traditional subsidies that are triggered during periods of low prices for corn, wheat, soybeans, cotton, rice and other crops, according to the Environmental Working Group.
Smith said giving up direct payment subsidies is a "significant concession" by farmers.
He said the farm bill will focus more on risk management practices, such as government subsidies to farmers for crop insurance.
"We know that the crop insurance concept has served both the producers and the taxpayers well," Smith said.
While the government subsidizes part of a farmer's cost for crop insurance, producers also pay into the program.
Smith said about 80 percent of the cost of the farm bill goes to government nutritional and welfare programs, such as food stamps. Crop insurance payments make up 9 percent, while commodity programs and conservation programs are each 7 percent.
One area of the farm bill that could see some reduction is U.S. Department of Agriculture conservation programs, such as the Conservation Reserve Program, Smith said.
"What I am going to ask producers themselves is what conservation programs do they think have been most effective," Smith said.