Four of the nation’s major farm organizations have released a statement saying that an affordable crop insurance program will be their No. 1 priority for the 2012 Farm Bill debate. The statement comes as the Houseand Senate Agriculture Committeesannounced a stepped up committee hearing schedule that may presage an effort to actually begin writing the next four- or five-year farm bill in April.

The National Corn Growers Association, National Association of Wheat Growers, American Soybean Association and National Sorghum Producers issued a joint statement on the farm bill at the Commodity Classic, the groups’ annual meeting/trade show in Nashville, Tenn.

“Commodity Classic provides our organizations an opportunity to come together to discuss important policy issues facing our industry,” the statement issued by the groups said. “As Congress continues work on the next farm bill, our organizations agree that an affordable crop insurance program is our No. 1 priority.

“We also stand ready to work with House and Senate Ag Committee leaders to create farm programs that provide risk-management tools to growers when they are facing a loss beyond their control.”

The groups asked Congress to pass a new farm bill this year “to provide the level of certainty in America that a short-term extension cannot. The nation is currently facing record high federal deficits and this requires difficult decisions. We stand ready to do our part to develop more efficient farm policy that will be responsive to taxpayers and effective in helping farms remain viable and productive."

The statement was released by National Corn Growers Association President Garry Niemeyer, a corn grower from Auburn, IL; National Association of Wheat Growers President Wayne Hurst, a wheat producer from Burley, ID; American Soybean Association President Steve Wellman, soybean farmer from Syracuse, NE; and National Sorghum Producers Chairman Terry Swanson, a sorghum grower from Walsh, CO.

The organizations represent more than 70% of all crop acres in the U.S. More than 5,400 farmers had pre-registered for Commodity Classic, which would be a new record attendance for the event, which is being held at the Opryland Hotel in Nashville.

“Agriculture is a bright spot in our nation’s economy, sustainably meeting the expanding demands to provide food, feed, fuel and fiber to the world,” the statement said. “We are pleased to see the Senate and House Agriculture Committees have produced such an aggressive schedule and we thank them for their efforts.”

On Thursday, House Agriculture Committee Chairman Frank Lucas (R-OK) announced a series of farm bill field hearings to take place throughout March and April. The first one is scheduled for upstate New York with other stops slated for Illinois, Arkansas and Kansas.

Lucas said the hearings will give Members of the House Agriculture Committee the opportunity to hear firsthand how U.S. farm policy is working for farmers and ranchers in advance of writing legislation.

The field hearings are the next step in the farm bill development. Last June, Chairman Lucas began the effort when the Agriculture Committee held 11 audit hearings on agriculture programs to look for ways to improve programs for farmers, increase efficiency, and reduce spending. The information gained from the audits combined with perspective from the field will serve as a useful reference for Committee Members.

The third hearing will be held at Riceland Hall, Fowler Center on the Arkansas State University Campus, March 30.