Adam Nielsen is director of national legislation and policy development at Illinois Farm Bureau, where he has served for the past 22 years.
He is a native of Rockford, graduating from the University of Illinois in the 1980s and settling in central Illinois.
Nielsen said he considers himself a farm policy nerd and enjoys working on and talking about issues important to farmers.
IFT spoke with Nielsen recently about elements of the next farm bill as congressional leaders debate the omnibus farm legislation package that could be tweaked in 2023.
IFT: The farm bill includes a wide range of provisions touching many areas of life. What areas are of most interest to farmers?
NIELSEN: The farm bill is a big piece of legislation that has numerous titles. Commodity, conservation programs and, of course, crop insurance are the three titles that we pay close attention to during the debates.
IFT: We think of the farm bill as having a five-year life span. When will the current farm bill expire, and what will happen if no agreement is made on rewriting it?
NIELSEN: The 2018 farm bill is due to expire next year. It’s usually written for a five-year period. That seems to be the sweet spot to have policy that people can plan around. There is some certainty not having it changed overnight. It think that’s worked well.
If another isn’t written in 2023, it will probably be extended. We hope Congress will get its work done and is efficient.
IFT: The farm bill has been one piece of legislation that has held relatively little controversy in recent years. One reason may be the urban-rural compromise that includes issues important to most legislators. In the past there has been some noise about removing agricultural programs from nutrition programs. But is the current makeup here to stay?
NIELSEN: Politics makes strange bedfellows. Nutrition advocates worked closely with the crop insurance industry and farm groups. It’s an all-hands-on-deck effort. We put a lot into it, and they do too.
There are going to be many members of Congress that have production agriculture but not a lot of farmers out there who are buying crop insurance. Having the SNAP program (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) included in the farm bill is a wise move. It keeps all the components together from production to consumption.
I don’t think anybody in our world would suggest that we split the two. It has worked very well. If anything, we would insist that the farm bill be viewed as one policy from planting a crop to consuming it.
IFT: For most farmers, crop insurance is the key component of the farm bill, replacing ad hoc disaster assistance programs of the past. How well has it worked?
NIELSEN: It’s a voluntary program, but it has become indispensable.
There are some advantages to having crop insurance to insure revenue in an industry that sees its fair share of disaster. With disaster assistance (in the past) you would have to wait a year or two for some sort of relief. Often it was not enough and it was always too late.
Over the past 20 to 25 years, crop insurance is a product most farmers purchase. There’s a huge amount of satisfaction.
It’s not going to be a tough fight to extend it. I can’t imagine there is support for major changes. It’s running very smoothly. A tweak here or there wouldn’t hurt.
IFT: There has been support in some quarters for means testing. Do you think those ideas have any legs?
NIELSEN: We’ve always tried to avoid means testing for crop insurance. It’s an insurance product, so they’re paying a premium for that coverage. It’s partially subsidized by the federal government.
It’s a win-win. It works smoothly, from the government standpoint, to eliminate the need for ad hoc disaster assistance. I can’t imagine means testing gets a whole lot of attention. We would argue vehemently against it.
Where do you draw the line? Where is the income level when you’re on your own?
That may make some people feel good, but this is a product that anyone with crop insurance has to pay for, and it’s a pretty big check.
IFT: It sounds like the national Farm Bureau is relatively happy with the major provision of the farm bill. But do you seek any changes?
NIELSEN: We want to maintain the current level of risk premium support for crop insurance, maintain producer privacy and keep indemnity payments.
On the commodity side it would be nice to have one-time signup, but they like to get you in the office every year.
We may want to look at a longer Olympic average to calculate ARC payments.
What I hope doesn’t happen is that there is no debate and we end up extending the current farm bill for a period of time. Just tweaks around the edges is what we would be supportive of.
I’m sure there are other groups in the same boat. It’s always good to look at policy.