As lawmakers wrestle with what programs to build the next farm bill around, it can’t be said enough: what works best in the Midwest farm country doesn’t necessarily work best in the South.
On Tuesday, Ted Schneider, president of the Louisiana Cotton and Grain Association, spoke with Farm Press about that, current planting conditions, crop insurance, farm-country bankers, and the soon-to-arrive “Tier 4” diesel engines. Among his comments:
On current conditions and the planting season…
“The planting season has been very wet – especially in my area of northeast Louisiana. Between I-20 and McGehee, Ark., it’s been wet and is again, today.
“I think soybean planting is around 15 to 20 percent complete. Cotton may be at 10 percent complete. On my farm, we ended up 300 acres short of the corn I intended to plant. That was strictly due to wet weather and is a common story in the area.”
On the wide swings in weather in the last few years…
“The only uniform thing about the weather has been the lack of uniformity.
“At this time last year we were already contemplating starting to irrigate. Now, it’s the complete opposite – we’re trying to get water off the fields.
“In the last few years, we’ve been struggling with water one way or the other. We’re either trying to get it off or trying to put it on.
“Things just aren’t ‘normal’ with the weather anymore. And you can’t really define ‘normal.’”
On some key issues for Mid-South cotton farmers…
“No one knows what’s coming and there’s a lot of concern out there.
“With past farm bills, we’ve always compromised and worked things out in a manner that produced legislation that worked for everybody. Now, we’re in such uncertain times with a lot less money and we’ll be looking at a farm bill that is radically different than what we’re used to.
“It seems like commodity groups, instead of working together, have all come up with different proposals (for the new farm bill) that benefit that specific commodity. That’s what they’re pushing for and there doesn’t seem to be a lot of discussion amongst the different groups to see what works best for everybody.
“So, we’re heading into a farm bill with a lot of regional differences, a lot of differences among crops, and a lot of regional differences amongst those growing the same crop. That isn’t good. What works for west Texas doesn’t necessarily work in the Mid-South.
“With all due respect to the current Senate Agriculture Committee (leaders) – who I’ve met and they seem receptive and somewhat sympathetic to what we have to say -- I think as far as rice and cotton go, we lost a real ally in (Arkansas) Sen. Blanche Lincoln.
“Right now, the Senate Agriculture Committee only has four members, all Republicans, who have cotton and rice in their districts. We've lost a lot of representation and clout as the Senate is majority Democrat.”
On the National Cotton Council’s proposed Stacked Income Protection Plan (STAX) program…
“It will work well if you grow cotton. For cotton growers, it’s the best proposal being floated and we support it.”
For more on STAX, see here.
Insurance, financing, Tier 4 engines
On crop insurance potentially being the centerpiece of the next farm bill…
“Crop insurance works well in certain parts of the country and no so well in others. Unfortunately, in Louisiana and the Mid-South it doesn’t work quite so well. Maybe it can be strengthened.
“One of my major concerns is the way the yield databases are set up. My own contains some yields from back in 1991, 1993. Those were good yields back then but aren’t reflective of what we’re making today. And they certainly aren’t reflective of today’s input expenses.
“Right now, we just can’t insure the yields we’re growing. We are trending in that direction but aren’t there yet. Maybe we can beef crop insurance up somehow and keep tinkering with it and it’ll be the natural safety net. It needs a lot of work.”
For more on crop insurance, see here.
On farmers visiting the banker with farm bill legislation still in flux…
“There are a lot of concerns and bankers are worried. The uncertainty is scary and has caused them to be hesitant.
“(The Louisiana Cotton and Grain Association) has been in D.C. pushing for a farm bill to be passed in 2012. The main idea is that our bankers and members need to be able to adjust our operations as early as possible.
“Right now, we don’t know if we’re facing an extension (of the current farm bill) or what programs will be in a new farm bill. That uncertainty – along with the fact that farmers need to borrow a lot to run an operation now -- means banks are not facing a good situation.
“I’ve been in D.C. twice in the last two months. You walk in one office and hear ‘well, the farm bill will be extended.’ The next office you visit says ‘we’ll have a farm bill passed in April.’
“No one knows and things are very strange politically. We’re so polarized and not working together like we used to and still need to be.”
On coming EPA Tier 4 requirements for diesel engines…
“Some new EPA emissions standards for off-road diesel engine are about to slap us all in the face. We’re about to switch to a ‘Tier 4’ engines and it will really cost us.
“Back in 2004, when the rules were set up for the Tier 4 engines to be phased in, the government accounting said it would add about 1 percent to the cost of a diesel engine. Instead, right now, it appears it’ll add about 50 percent to the cost of those engines.
“I’m told the Tier 3 engines are sucking in dirtier air than what they’re spitting back out. If that’s true, I don’t know how that adds up to justification for a 50 percent increase in the cost of Tier 4 engines.
“One of our local dealerships has some Tier 3 irrigation power units for sale at $13,500. They won’t be able to get anymore of those – supply is tight. Everything they get from now on will be Tier 4 and the price for the same engine will go up to $20,000.
“That’s been flying under the radar for years. It’ll hit home pretty quickly and producers need to know it’s coming.”