As Michele Aavang and her husband, Gary, prepare for the upcoming planting season by repairing fences and equipment, they want to know how the farming system will operate beyond the next few months.
“It’s hard to make plans for the future when you don’t know what the rules are going to be,” Michele Aavang said.
Congress is in the process of considering a new farm bill.
Aavang, the president of the McHenry County Farm Bureau board, hopes for one with a long life span. The farm bill passed in 2008 applied for five years. Congress then extended it for nine months, making it hard for farmers to plan ahead, she said.
“As a whole, farmers ... are more than willing to take our share of the budget cuts,” Aavang said. “We all recognize the federal budget needs to be cut in all areas.”
Aavang, who grows grain, soybeans, wheat and corn, and raises cattle, said five years is customary and is what most farmers expect.
“Perhaps a farmer might be considering an expansion,” said Aavang, of Woodstock. “How do you make a decision? What are the basic ground rules? There are a lot of unknowns.”
She said she hopes there is a safety net included in the bill, and farmers could give up things such as direct payments.
A safety net would help protect against a drought like last year’s, Aavang said. The safety net would be crop insurance that farmers can buy to make sure they have revenue coming in.
“What we went through last year proved that it works,” Aavang said. “The federal government didn’t have to bail us out.”
Crop insurance is based on the history of the yield, or a county average, and what a farmer buys is based on his risk tolerance and what he can afford.
“We still may go backward, but it will keep you in the game so you can farm again in the following year,” Aavang said.
Dan Volkers, manager of the McHenry County Farm Bureau, agreed that crop insurance is important for farmers.
It helps cover the cost of operating and allows farmers “to pay their bills and move on to the next year and try again,” Volkers said.
Volkers said specialty growers also would like to see assistance in becoming organically certified. The certification process can take many years as farmers stop using chemicals. There also are added costs to get to that level, as well as losses in crop yields, Volkers said.
Volkers added that farmers want to see conservation programs, which help with protecting land from soil erosion, continue.
“When budgets get tight, it’s one of the areas that get looked at pretty hard,” Volkers said.
Volkers added that food and nutrition programs to help poor people make up a large portion of the farm bill. The USDA’s 2013 budget is $155 billion. Of that, $110.5 billion goes toward non-agriculture and social programs.
Bruce Meier of Hebron, who grows corn, soybeans and winter wheat, said he would like to see crop insurance be a main priority.
“We were enjoying fairly good prices for grain, but on the flip side, our costs have increased,” Meier said.
He said fuel and seed prices have gone up.
He added that changing weather conditions can play havoc with crops. Last year’s drought required him to put in a crop insurance claim, for only the second time in the 12 years he has been farming. His farm had low yields.
In 2009, Meier had to put in his first claim because a cool summer prevented crops from reaching full maturity.
Meier said lenders and landlords want farmers to have crop insurance.
“We pay into that every year,” Meier said. “It isn’t a money-making venture.”