As the newest member of the House Agriculture Committee Congressman John Garamendi says he plans to put crop insurance, agricultural research, conservation programs, food security and the marketing of regional crops worldwide at the top of his list of priorities.
The former California insurance commissioner was named to the committee on Wednesday. Because he also serves on the Transportation and Infrastructure and the Armed Services committees, he obtained a waiver to serve on this third committee.
Garamendi, D-Fairfield, is no stranger to farming and agriculture.
He’s been an outspoken advocate for a multibillion-dollar farm bill expected to be taken up by Congress sometime this year, and his 3rd Congressional District is home to a variety of crops and commodities, including rice, almonds, walnuts, plums, wine grapes, milk products and cattle – it is also home to UC Davis’ renown agriculture and agricultural research departments.
Garamendi also manages a cattle ranch and a pear orchard at his home in Walnut Grove.
And he’s also no stranger to insurance. He served as California’s first elected insurance commissioner from 1991 to 1995, the he served as commissioner again from 2003 to 2007.
Within his committee assignment Garamendi requested and got put on the General Farm Commodities and Risk Management Subcommittee, which deals with programs and markets related to crops like cotton, wheat, feed grains, soybeans, rice, dry beans, peas and the Commodity Credit Corporation, and risk management, including crop insurance, commodity exchanges, and specialty crops.
Among those topics crop insurance is of particular interest to him, Garamendi told Insurance Journal.
“I expect that I’ll be deeply ingrained in that issue,” he said, adding he believes the role of crop insurance is to help “provide the kind so support the agricultural industry needs at a cost that they can afford.”
However, another of Garamendi’s priorities may put him more in public view, and possibly a few political battles, in the coming year. The farm bill, which failed to get passage last year, is a cause he intends to fight for.
National Farmers Union President Roger Johnson and his staff have already started meeting with members of agriculture committees in both the House and Senate to get an early start to a process they hope will produce a five-year farm bill as soon as possible, according to an announcement last week by the union.
A temporary extension of the 2008 Farm Bill passed as the Tax Relief Extension Act in January, but it’s set to expire Sept. 30. Between now and then it’s likely to draw both attention and opposition as it did last year.
Garamendi acknowledged the bill faces some challenges. It has to rewritten, and it’s unclear whether the bill will have the powerful support this year of House Speaker John Boehner, who nearing the end of 2012 and the edge of the U.S. fiscal cliff refused to bring the farm bill to a floor for a vote.
“The issues that concern Speaker Boehner are unknown,” Garamendi said.
There has been talk lately of a meeting set between Boehner, R-Ohio and House Agriculture Committee Ranking Member Collin Peterson, D-Minn, who is seeking a commitment of floor time for the farm bill.
That may be among the reasons that Garamendi is more optimistic for a successful farm bill this year.
“There was a great deal of agreement between the Republicans and the Democrats in the House,” Garamendi said. “Unfortunately speaker Boehner was among those not in agreement and the five-year bill and it did not move last year.”
He added, “It’s extremely important for our agricultural industry.”
Garamendi said new farm bill will put greater emphasis on crop insurance and less on the farm subsidy programs, such as the direct payment program, something Garamendi believes will please insurance agents and insurers who deal with agriculture products.
“Therefore it should be a significant increase in insurance activities and the insurance market,” he said.
According to the Insurance Information Institute, crop insurance has become the largest single source of financial protection for farmers, insuring 260 million acres in 2011, up from 182.2 million acres in 1997.
And it’s insurance where Garamendi says he sees the future of farm programs.
“The nature of the stabilization programs, otherwise known as crop insurance and direct payment, is changing,” he said.
Those insurance programs are moving more and more into issues that deal with the collapse of the farm prices, droughts, floods, freezes, he said.
“The entire farm program is moving away from direct payment and into insurance,” Garamendi said, adding, “I think it’s the right way to go.”
In his home state of California marketing crops internationally is also of importance to Garamendi, who
“California agriculture has great variation,” Garamendi said, noting that the state grows nearly 200 specialty crops. “The international marketing of these agriculture products is very important.”