WASHINGTON — Two panel groups recently urged a US Senate subcommittee to consider strengthening current farm safety net programs and other agricultural risk management tools as Congress prepares the 2023 farm bill. The two panels, representing active farmers and various agricultural advocacy groups, offered testimony and answered questions May 2 at the first of two hearings on commodity programs, credit and crop insurance. 

“We ask Congress to make a good program better,” said Brent Cheyne, president of the National Association of Wheat Growers in Klamath Falls, Ore.

Mr. Cheyne along with other panelists said the current coverage set by the 2018 farm bill was too limited to withstand recent challenges brought about by COVID-related supply chain disruptions, trade disputes with the Chinese government, market volatility stemming from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February 2022, severe climate impact and stubborn inflation.

“We need to recognize what it really costs to grow crops,” said Zippy Duvall, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation. “On my farm this year I paid 300% more for nitrogen than I did last year. Who can absorb that in their budget and continue to operate? No one can.” He added that the safety net and risk management tools provided in the farm bill had a greater purpose than just providing crop insurance.  

“A country that cannot feed itself and its people is not secure, so a strong farm policy that supports a strong food supply truly is part of a smart national security strategy,” Mr. Duvall said.

At the request of the Senate subcommittee members, Rob Larew, president of the National Farmers Union, identified priorities for Congress to consider for the next farm bill, which included a well-funded permanent disaster program to protect against losses from market disruptions and extreme weather; an increase in reference prices and loan rates to offset higher costs of production; and making additional crop insurance options accessible to specialty crop producers and those with diversified farms.

“We have to build a bill that’s reflective of the current conditions and the next five years,” Mr. Larew said, adding recent US Department of Agriculture reports project net farm incomes to decline nearly 21% this year.

Democratic Senator and chair of the subcommittee on commodities, risk management and trade, Tina Smith, acknowledged these challenges in her opening statements at the start of the hearing and emphasized the importance of agriculture to the nation’s economy.

“Farmers, ranchers, dairy farmers, poultry and livestock producers are at the center of our economy, our food system and our national security, and there is nothing more important to our country than a stable, secure, healthy food supply,” Ms. Smith said. “And that means we need stable, secure producers that have the tools you need to weather the ups and downs of agriculture.”