Témoignage de Sonny Perdue sur l’état de l’économie agricole américaine
Sonny Perdue, témoignage devant le comité agriculture de la Chambre des représentants, 17 mai 2017
22 Mai 2017
Voilà quatre mois que le Président Donald Trump a pris ses fonctions. Quatre mois pendant lesquels le nouveau résident de la Maison Blanche a multiplié les décrets, soit une « trentaine d’executive orders », certains pour le moins controversés : abrogation de l' « Obamacare », décret anti-avortement, mur avec le Mexique, décret migratoire, « America first »...
Lors de sa campagne, Donald Trump s’était également voulu le candidat des farmers. Alors que l’actuel Farm Bill arrive à échéance en 2018, les débats autour de la prochaine loi-cadre agricole sont engagés. Le nouveau secrétaire à l’agriculture, Sonny Perdue, a prononcé le 17 mai dernier son premier discours devant le comité agriculture de la Chambre des représentants. Dans l’extrait de ce discours sur l’état de l’agriculture que nous reproduisons ci-après1, il revient sur la récente chute de 50% des revenus des farmers par rapport à 2013, imputable au ralentissement de l’économie globale, à la baisse des prix des produits agricoles mais aussi à une augmentation des coûts de production. Les farmers sont de plus en plus « exposés aux risques financiers » soulève-t-il, parmi ces risques, celui de « la perte de la valeur des terres agricoles dans certaines régions agricoles », qui avec des taux d’intérêts à la hausse depuis 2014, opèrent une importante pression sur les farmers.
Pour S. Perdue, ces éléments ne sont pourtant pas de nature à remettre en cause les principaux programmes contracycliques (Price Loss Coverage et Agriculture Risk Coverage) à l’œuvre pour les producteurs de grains renforcés lors du dernier Farm Bill. En revanche, le programme censé soutenir la marge des éleveurs laitiers, le Margin Protection Program for Dairy (MPP-Dairy) ne trouve pas grâce à ses yeux : en cause, la formule de calcul du déclenchement des aides qui n’est pas jugée adaptée. Autre échec, le Stacked Income Protection Plan (STAX) pour le coton, dont le taux de pénétration ne dépasse pas les 30%, est critiqué pour la faiblesse du soutien qu’il fournit aux producteurs.
Sur le plan institutionnel, S. Perdue annonce le rapprochement de différentes agences (Farm Service Agency, Risk Management Agency et le Natural Ressources Conservation Service) dans l’objectif de constituer un guichet unique pour les agriculteurs. Enfin sur le plan commercial, les griefs à l’encontre des politiques agricoles de la Chine et du Canada sont rappelés. Un sous-secrétaire pour le commerce et les affaires agricoles étrangères aura pour tâche de coordonner les actions de l’USDA pour « ouvrir de nouveaux marchés et protéger les débouchés actuels ».
La rédaction de Momagri
You asked me to provide an update today on the state of our agricultural economy. While I believe the farm safety net is working, we are seeing and hearing from producers that they believe it needs updates to meet the needs of the farm economy. Over the past three years, a strong dollar, generally weak global economic growth, and ample global production have combined to lower trade demand from the United States and to depress many commodity prices. As a result, we have seen a 50 percent drop in net farm income from the all-time record highs farmers experienced in 2013. This has squeezed some of our farmers and others who also contribute to the ag economy, and we are seeing it across the countryside in a broad range of areas from input dealers to food manufacturers.
According to our USDA economists, net farm income this year accounting for inflation will be the lowest since 2002. Of course farming is a cyclical business, and previous good times have helped some producers weather the current downturn in agricultural commodity prices and income. However, without the record levels of crop and livestock production we have seen over the past few years, farms would be in a much worse situation today. And we know that we can’t always count on a bumper crop to pay off loans and to buy inputs for next season. Looking at the flood, fire, and snow conditions we’ve already seen this spring reminds us of that.
It is clear that more and more producers are increasingly exposed to financial risk: bank credit is tightening, delinquency rates on both commercial and FSA loans, while still at relatively low levels, have been trending upwards since 2014, and land values are falling in many agricultural regions. All are contributing to increased uncertainty and concern in rural America. As you could expect, those producers with high costs of production, who rent a significant portion of their land base, or who have increased borrowing to cover operating costs have been most at risk as returns decline with commodity prices. About one-in-five cotton, wheat, hog, and poultry farms have a debt-to-asset ratio of more than 40 percent and more than one-in-three of our youngest farmers are in a highly leveraged position.
Nevertheless, even as falling global commodity prices continue to depress farm income, the current farm safety net that was created during the last Farm Bill is providing support for producers. Roughly 1.8 million farms are enrolled in the Agriculture Risk Coverage (ARC) and Price Loss Coverage (PLC) programs, which are helping cushion the downturn in some commodity prices. To date, the ARC and PLC programs have provided $5.3 billion in financial assistance for crop year 2014 to 1 million farms and $7.8 billion to 1.7 million farms for crop
year 2015, which was paid out to producers last fall. Overall, in calendar year 2016, government farm payments totaled about $13.0 billion in 2016 and are expected to total $12.5 billion in 2017. On top of that, the crop insurance program offset roughly $6.3 billion in farm losses in crop year 2015 and is expected to cover $3.6 billion in 2016.
Yet, not all programs are functioning as producers hoped they would. For example, over 25,000 U.S. dairy farms—more than half– have enrolled in the Margin Protection Program for Dairy (MPP-Dairy), which provides payments if the margin between milk prices and feed costs falls below the coverage level selected by the producer. While many dairy producers saw milk prices fall below their overall costs of production, the margin between dairy prices and feed costs remained for the most part above the levels supported by the program. Many producers said the feed ration used in the MPP program was not representative of the rations they fed their cows. As a result, most dairy producers have been paying to participate in this program meant to insure them against tightening margins without realizing any benefits though their own margins were being squeezed. This is a critical issue for our dairy producers.
As another example, cotton was taken out of the Title I commodity programs. Cotton producers were allowed to participate in the ARC or PLC program on their base acres only by growing another crop. For cotton plantings, producers were allowed to participate in a new crop insurance program called the Stacked Income Protection Plan for Producers of Upland Cotton (STAX). While about 95 percent of cotton acres are enrolled in other types of crop insurance policies each year, only 25-30 percent of cotton acres have been covered by STAX since it began in 2015. Many cotton producers have found faults in STAX and assert it is not as beneficial as the assistance provided to other crops. Both the dairy and cotton examples are the types of issues that producers hope will be addressed in the next Farm Bill.
As I mentioned, access to credit remains a significant issue for producers, particularly as working capital on farm businesses has fallen nearly seventy percent since 2012. Demand for credit continues to be strong, particularly for farm operating loans, as farmers cope with lower commodity prices. As commercial channels become more difficult for producers, we anticipate that demand for USDA credit assistance will continue to remain high. Since 2009, USDA has provided approximately 243,000 loans totaling over $35.2 billion to farmers and ranchers. The recent increase in demand led to full utilization of the program level for farm operating loans for fiscal year (FY) 2016, with record loan levels at $6.3 billion. So far in 2017, we’ve seen a slight decline of 6 percent in loan numbers and value over the same period in 2016, but that is a small decline coming off a record year—demand for FSA financing is still strong.
Looking forward to the next farm bill, I hope we can work closely with you to identify ways to make USDA programs work better for America’s farmers and ranchers. However, we have to be sure to make those programs work as a safety net that helps farmers in tough times. We don’t want to see programs that encourage production choices simply to increase government payments to the farm; rather we want our producers to be responding to the market when they are deciding on what to plant for the coming year. In addition, I believe it is imperative to improve the tools the Department has to address pressing and difficult situations faced by our producers, and to react quickly and provide additional assistance if current market conditions persist or worsen. The authority of the Secretary has been limited by congressional action when it comes to using CCC funding, Section 32, and other authorities to provide relief, while at the same time our farmers, ranchers, and constituents are asking USDA to help. I’m not suggesting that USDA would take action in every instance where a commodity sector or group of producers is hurting - we certainly must be mindful of fiscal challenges - but it would be helpful for the Secretary to have authority to evaluate the needs of U.S. agriculture and use these tools when appropriate. As another example, while not in this Committee’s jurisdiction, USDA’s annual appropriations is so prescriptive that it is rivaled only by the Department of Defense. For instance, I recently learned that there is language in our appropriations act that requires the Farm Service Agency to notify Congress of relocating any county based employee if the relocation would result in an office that has two or fewer employees. So even if an employee in an office of three wants to leave for a voluntary promotion, the agency could not relocate that person until Congress is notified. This kind of limiting language is what challenges USDA’s ability to be a more nimble and effective organization.
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