The recent vote by the U.S. House of Representatives Agricultural Committee to approve a five-year, $500 billion farm bill has encouraged Georgia peanut growers and given them hope that some legislation will be decided on this year.
However, UGA peanut specialists say there is still a lot of work to be done before they know specifics about what farmers can expect.
Last year Congress decided to extend the 2008 Farm Bill by one year, as no new legislation was agreed upon. John Beasley, a peanut agronomist with the University of Georgia College of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, said knowing what the future holds is key for farmers who need to plan for the year ahead.
“Growers want some sort of bill just so they’ll know the rules and regulations which they’re operating under,” said Beasley. “It’s always a challenge to get a crop planted and not know where it’s going. Going into the winter, we were out talking to farmers, sharing research, and most weren’t sure how many acres they needed to plant. They weren’t sure about crop rotation and the financial end of it. And our lending institutions are reluctant to provide capital if they don’t know where it’s going.”
The bills produced by the agricultural committees in both the U.S. House and Senate are similar, said UGA peanut economist Nathan Smith. Both bills eliminated direct payments, but they do provide some stabilization for rural economies.
“The loss of the direct payment program wasn’t really unexpected,” Smith said. “With the budget deficit and everything that has come out of the super committee and the fact that the 2008 Farm Bill was extended out for this year, we thought that farmers would lose direct payments. But there is some choice for producers with the choice between the price loss program and the shallow loss program. That’s something new and something that should be good for our farmers.”
Smith added that revenue insurance is relied on heavily by corn and grain growers in other parts of the country but does not benefit Southern growers as much. While he is encouraged by the progress in Washington, Smith believes there are still some serious discussions to be had.
“One of the biggest hurdles we’re going to have is the funding cuts to the nutrition title programs, which really impact the funding for the farm bill,” he said. “SNAP programs and the WIC and school lunch programs are a big part of that, and there’s a lot more support now for locally grown and less processed foods. That could have an impact on produce growers.”
“The regulations still have to be written, and as they say, the devil is in the details sometimes,” Smith said.
Beasley said the 2012 peanut crop was by far the most successful Georgia has seen, exceeding the 2011 yields by 1,000 pounds per acre. An unexpected rise in export of peanuts to China kept prices from dropping too far with such a large supply.
A different weather pattern in 2013 has affected planting, as growers have seen much cooler weather later into this year than last year. Many growers planted later in the spring, and Beasley said warmer weather will be needed in the fall.
“It’s a complete turnaround from what we had last year,” he said. “It was very warm in early April last year, and we got some timely rain last July and August which made it such a good year. We’ll need some warm weather into late October this year because the start of planting was delayed, but that wouldn’t be that unusual to have those kinds of temperatures.”
Don Koehler, executive director of the Georgia Peanut Commission, said he expects debate to move to the floors of Congress in the next few weeks. He hopes the process is completed by the fall, which would leave growers with time to seek financing for the 2014 planting season.
"Both bills authorize programs that provide an economic benefit to rural areas whose economies are highly dependent on the success of agricultural production,” he said. “We've got a lot of work to do to get us through that process. I'm optimistic when I look at the votes, and I think we have some major challenges staring us in the face. But getting it out of committee right now is a major step in the right direction."
(Chris Beckham is a news writer working with the University of Georgia Tifton campus and the Tifton Chamber of Commerce.)