Heitkamp, Ernst Introduce Bipartisan Bill to Help Farmers Suffering from Low Commodity Prices

Senators’ Bill would Strengthen ARC-CO Safety Net Program in Next Farm Bill

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND) and Joni Ernst (R-IA) today introduced bipartisan legislation to strengthen and improve the Agriculture Risk Coverage-County Level program (ARC-CO), which helps farmers when commodity prices fall to damaging levels.  

Heitkamp and Ernst’s bill aims to strengthen the ARC-CO safety net program in the next Farm Bill to better support farmers during tough times like low commodity prices or drought and make sure they get the accurate payments they deserve. The bill builds on Heitkamp’s successful effort from 2015 when she got the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) to allow farmers whose land is across multiple counties to have their ARC-CO payments recalculated so those payments reflect what’s owed to them in the physical counties where their farms are located. Additionally, Senator Ernst, along with Senator Chuck Grassley (R-IA), sent a letter to then-Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack last May requesting more information regarding the methodology for determining county yields for the ARC-CO program. ARC-CO provides revenue loss coverage at the county level when the actual county crop revenue of a covered commodity is less than the ARC-CO guarantee.

“North Dakota’s farmers and ranchers feed our state, the country, and the world – and it’s critical that they get the support they need to continue to operate during good and bad times,” said Heitkamp. “As I’ve met with producers across our state over the past few months, they have made clear that improvements are necessary to programs like ARC-CO that help our agriculture community get through challenges like drought and low commodity prices. Two years ago, I successfully pressed USDA to make a fix so farmers who produce in more than one county get the payments they deserve. This bipartisan bill builds on that effort to improve the ARC-CO program to better serve the farmers who need it most. As Congress works on the next Farm Bill, we need to make sure bills like this one that aim to protect and strengthen the farm safety net are included.”

“In Iowa, 97 percent of our farmers’ corn acres and 98 percent of their soybean acres are enrolled in the ARC-CO program. Unfortunately, some of our farmers have experienced payment discrepancies due to the program’s reliance on administrative county lines, rather than a farm’s actual physical location,” said Ernst, a member of the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry. “I am glad to join my colleague, Senator Heitkamp, in this bipartisan effort to address these disparities. Specifically, this legislation will work to ensure the data and process used by the Farm Service Agency to determine payments to our farmers are not unfairly affected by state or federal boundaries that have no bearing on a farm’s yield. I will continue to use our farmers’ feedback to address their concerns and provide them the support they need.”

Heitkamp and Ernst’s bill would specifically:

  • Improve data used to make ARC-CO payments. The bill would direct the Farm Service Agency (FSA) to use the more widely-available data from the Risk Management Agency as the first choice in yield calculations so that county level data is more accurate and updated;
  • Calculate safety net payments so they reflect what’s owed to producers in the physical counties where their farms are located. This fix would permanently put in place a change Heitkamp successfully had USDA implement in 2015 for North Dakota farmers, rather than having the payments based solely on the single county the producer used for administrative purposes; and
  • Make payments more accurate. The bill would provide FSA state committees discretion to adjust yield data estimates to help reduce inexplicable variation between neighboring counties or along boundaries with neighboring states. Adjustments would be made prior to yields being finalized or published.

The bill is supported by the American Farm Bureau Federation, National Farmers Union, American Soybean Association, National Association of Wheat Growers, National Barley Growers Association, National Corn Growers Association, National Sunflower Association, USA Dry Pea & Lentil Council, US Canola Association, North Dakota Grain Growers Association, North Dakota Corn Growers Association, and the North Dakota Soybean Growers Association. Click here for statements of support.

The Title I ARC-CO program in the 2014 Farm Bill makes payments to producers when their county’s actual crop revenue is less than the ARC-CO revenue guaranteed in their county. But for the farmers who farm land across county lines, it’s possible that their single administrative county may not have triggered a payment – even if they also farm in a county that did trigger a payment, or that triggered a payment at an increased level.