By BRITTANY KINSTLE
Capital News Service
LANSING – A revision to the nation’s farm bill will make it possible for
Michigan farmers who grow commodities on smaller plots to get government assistance.
The aid is temporary, however, and will be available only for the rest of this year.
Previously, farmers who manage 10 base-acres or less couldn’t collect benefits.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture uses base-acres to classify crops grown on a
field over time. Corn, soybean and wheat “program crops” are worth a certain amount, or
direct payment, based on a previously established standard on a given acreage.
Ryan Findlay, a national lobbyist for the Michigan Farm Bureau, said the
government pays farmers to help cover basic operating costs and to insure risks
associated with agricultural activity.
“Farming is tied to weather in a way that no other industry is,” he said. “It could
be great or a real struggle. This system is like a safety net or buffer, so in a rough year
they’ll be OK.”
Although there are no exact figures, many farmers in the state manage hundreds
of acres but may farm areas fewer than 10 base-acres of such program crops.
Tod Kubiszak, owner of Full Moon Farms, has almost 500 acres of crops spread
throughout Lawrence Township in Van Buren County.
He said the changes signed into law in October allow him to collect payments on
the smaller tracts of land that grow corn, soybeans and wheat.
“It’s nice that we’re now able to keep all ground in the program. For example, it
affects me personally because I have one farm that’s 8.5 base-acres that didn’t count
before,” he said. “But the 30-acre one I also own across the street did.”
Under the law, farmers can’t combine many small parcels to equal 10 base-acres.
The farm bill, which sets federal policy related to agriculture and other food
programs, is renewed every five years. Experts say Congress had put the earlier 10 base-
acre minimum in the law to save money.
However, the recent revision applies only for 2008, with the remaining 2009-12
period restoring the restriction on smaller base-crops.
Kubiszak said he collects at least $2,800 a year in direct payments from all his
base-acreage corn, soybean and wheat. Of that, about $120 will be from smaller parcels.
While Kubiszak said what he makes in direct payments on small plots doesn’t
have a huge impact on his finances, for other farmers it could mean losing their land.
“For some guys, it’s going to affect rent payment because they use the money to
offset rent costs. In the last two years, land rent has gone sky high,” he said.
Roger Betz, a southwest district farm management Michigan State University
Extension educator, said local farm agencies estimate the legal change will significantly
affect Michigan farms with 10 or fewer base-acres.
“It’s a payment Congress didn’t want to mess around with, yet it’s 30 percent of
the farms in Michigan,” said Betz, who works in Marshall.
Findlay, the Farm Bureau lobbyist, said he will be busy encouraging members of
Congress who support farming to keep direct payments for 10 base-acres or less on the
bill for the next four years.
“The new legislation tried to smooth one of the farm bill bumps,” said Findlay.
“At the same time, it’s only good for one year.”
He said it’s important that all farmers are included in the program.
“It shouldn’t matter what size your farm is or who you are. If you’re farming and
there’s a safety net program, you should be eligible for that program.”