ALTOONA, Wis. (WEAU) -- The federal government shutdown briefly last Friday morning before the U.S. Senate and House voted to approve a criticized spending bill that includes some key agricultural programs. The budget agreement includes provisions for dairy and cotton farmers that will boost the baseline funding for the next farm bill by $1.2 billion. Cotton farmers will be allowed to enroll in the Price Loss Coverage program or Agricultural Risk Coverage program. The bill also includes $2.36 billion in funding for disasters last year, of which most is expected to help citrus growers in Florida. The disaster package also raises the annual $20 million cap on livestock insurance programs at USDA. The National Milk Producers Federation praised lawmakers for the dairy provisions that will boost the dairy Margin Protection Program by raising coverage levels and production covered under the program. Under MPP, the coverage levels would be raised from $4.00 to $5.00, there would be a reduction in premium rates, a modification in the margin calculation from bi-monthly to monthly basis and adjusting the first tier of coverage from 4 million pounds of milk to 5 million pounds.
It's been a long waiting game for Iowa Secretary of Agriculture Bill Northey. Northey was nominated five months ago to serve as USDA Undersecretary for Farm Production and Conservation, but the vote is still held up. U.S. Senator Ted Cruz put a hold on Northey's nomination on October 26, in response to Iowa Senator Charles Grassley's efforts to block action by the EPA to reduce the renewable fuels standard. Kim Reynolds, Iowa's Governor is unhappy about the situation but not as unhappy as USDA Secretary Sonny Perdue who has made it clear that he wants Northey confirmed. With issues like immigration and an upcoming farm bill, it appears unlikely that Northey's nomination will be considered in the near future. But in the meantime he will continue to be Iowa's Agriculture Secretary.
2017 was a historic year for crop insurance, with 311 million acres enrolled in the system. For perspective, that's an area roughly the size of California, Texas and New York combined. Mike Day, chairman of National Crop Insurance Services said that insurers backed more than $106 billion worth of crops in 2017, up $6 billion since 2016. And farmers paid $3.7 billion out of their own pockets for insurance protection - a more than $250 million increase from the year before. Today, crop insurance protects around 90 percent of the insurable land and more than 130 different kinds of crops. Despite its popularity, some farm policy opponents are angling to cut crop insurance funding in the upcoming Farm Bill debate. Day said that would be a mistake, pointing out Congress' efforts to make crop insurance affordable and available for farmers and economically viable enough to encourage efficient private-sector delivery.