Farm program cuts are among the bunch that have been pushed by some lawmakers as a way to forestall or lessen the blow of the sequester scheduled to take effect on March 1. Other lawmakers appear resolved to let the sequestration take place.

There’s a lot of uncertainty, right now,” says Randy Veach, east Arkansas producer and president of the Arkansas Farm Bureau. “The sequestration is looming and, while they aren’t sure, a lot of our delegation (to Congress) believes sequestration will take place."

“We have to provide a safety net and not completely gut the (recent 2008 farm bill) extension with sequestration. One of the reasons we traveled to D.C. was to reinforce and give them appreciation for the farm bill extension. That gave us some certainty that our producers needed.”

While on the Hill, the contingent met with Oklahoma Rep. Frank Lucas, chairman of the House Agriculture Committee. Veach says he was “complimentary of Arkansas Farm Bureau for the support we’ve provided on getting a good, comprehensive farm bill that provides a safety net for all of agriculture.”

Lucas feels “pretty positive about holding the extension. Of course, we may still see some cuts with sequestration. But (Lucas) feels we can count on the extension to continue.

“He said hearings on the new farm bill should begin soon and hopes what comes out of the House Agriculture Committee will be a lot like what came out in 2012. Those hearings could begin mid-year. There are a lot of budget issues, continuing resolution and other things that will take up a lot of Congress’ time before that.”

Among Veach’s other comments:

On the “alternative sequestration” offered by the Democrats that would end direct payments…

“It will look, basically, like (the farm bill) the Senate passed last year. That bill does not provide a safety net for Southern agriculture. It doesn’t recognize regional and commodity differences.

“So, we must work on that.”

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, “has said he’d take away direct payments in the 2014 through 2023 farm bill. What was obviously absent in that is he didn’t attack direct payments in the 2013 extension. That was very obvious and he’s concentrating on 2014.

“That gives us a little more certainty on the extension and we will get those direct payments.”

On the need for farmers to continue with plans to sign up for farm programs…

“Farmers should absolutely go ahead and sign up for farm programs. The extension was a full extension and it’s time to sign up. We appreciate the FSA setting that up and we want producers to get to the office, make appointments and start signing up.

“One thing in sequestration is ‘prior obligation.’ Programs that fit that definition aren’t subject to sequestration – things like SNAP, CRP, EQIP. If we sign up for direct payments and counter-cyclical under the extension, then we think those would be a prior obligation. When farmers go into the FSA office, they sign a contract with the government. When that happens, to me, that’s a prior obligation.”

On Mississippi Sen. Thad Cochran being named ranking member of the Senate Agriculture Committee…

“We think that’s a very positive move and we’re extremely pleased.”

During last year’s writing of the new farm bill by the Senate Agriculture Committee, “we were really struggling and battling at every turn when it came to recognizing regional and commodity differences with (former ranking member, Kansas Sen.) Pat Roberts.

“Cochran understands. He knows exactly where we are and he’s always been a great advocate for Southern agriculture. We look for him to play that role again.”

Crop insurance, immigration

Are you backing the big move to crop insurance?

“We’re supportive of a safety net for all commodities in all regions of the nation. Crop insurance is a valuable tool for a lot of regions.

“The problem arises where we mitigate risk with irrigation in the South. Yields aren’t that big of an issue here like they are in the Midwest and other areas.

“So, we need a choice. And that choice, instead of yield protection, needs to be price protection. We need a farm bill that gives us the opportunity to choose where to go for a safety net.”

“We want all our crops to have a safety net. And crop insurance provides that for much of the country – even for some of the producers in the South. But for a large portion of them, especially in certain commodities, (crop insurance) doesn’t provide that safety net.”

On aquaculture inspections and trade…

“There were some amendments in the (House Agriculture Committee) that would have hurt aquaculture and catfish. Our delegation worked hard to keep those off” the House version of the new farm bill. Arkansas Rep. Rick Crawford “did a good job with that.”

“We think it’s possible that some of those (amendments) will come back up. There will probably be a lot more discussion about dairy again, too.

“On the Senate side, both Arkansas senators will be working on the (new farm) bill, trying to provide the same (protections) for catfish producers in the South.”

On labor and immigration…

“We need a workable guest worker program that will provide migrant workers at certain times of the year. E-Verify can be problematic although it might be constructed in a way where it provides some benefit.”

“We don’t need to put the employer of being the police.

“Immigration will continue to be a big topic. We’ll do everything we can to ensure the producers have the migrant work power they need to provide the food, fiber and shelter that everyone expects.”