National farm policy must strike a balance between the need for a strong, effective safety net to protect farmers and ranchers against catastrophic revenue losses and fiscal soundness for the nation, the American Farm Bureau Federation told Congress Thursday.

"The new farm bill must be a fiscally responsible package that meets spending reduction targets and assures taxpayers that America's farmers are making wise use of tax dollars," AFBF President Bob Stallman testified at a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing on risk management and commodities in the 2012 farm bill.

"Continuation of a multi-legged stool remains the best approach for providing a fair and effective safety net," Stallman said. "This should consist of a strong crop insurance program, continuation of the current marketing loan provisions and a catastrophic revenue loss program.
"The challenge we all face is how to draft a farm bill that provides a strong, consistently viable safety net that protects farmers against crippling revenue declines, whether caused by falling markets or Mother Nature, while at the same time remaining cognizant of budget deficit challenges and changing public sentiment," Stallman said.

"While ours is a 'deep loss' program and would not provide producers with payments as often as other proposals contemplated, it would provide more coverage in times of catastrophic losses when assistance is most critical," he explained.

In addition, "As a general farm organization, we place high priority on ensuring the new farm bill benefits all agricultural commodity sectors in a balanced, coordinated manner," Stallman said. He urged coverage for five fruits and vegetables - apples, tomatoes, grapes, potatoes and sweet corn - in new national farm policy.

"Conceptually, our proposal can cover all specialty crops that have crop insurance available, but we decided it was best to learn to walk before we run," Stallman explained.

Stallman also expressed Farm Bureau's support for the concepts included in a bill introduced by Rep. Collin Peterson (D-Minn.) that would reform and improve the dairy program.

After outlining AFBF's key farm bill principles, Stallman said Farm Bureau recognizes that developing a new farm bill requires flexibility from all participants.

"The AFBF board has indicated openness to discussing an approach that would combine the current crop insurance and marketing programs with a supplemental group or area insurance program that sits 'on top' of individual crop insurance," he said. "But, I want to be clear that we have a number of concerns about this type of approach," he concluded.