Farm Bill Feuds

Passed every five to seven years, the Farm Bill is a historic, far-reaching piece of legislation that impacts every American.

The Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1933 is considered to be the earliest incarnation of the Farm Bill, passed during the Great Depression to assist farmers during extreme weather-induced losses.

Since its inception, its vast array of policies/programs has supported food security, nutrition/food programs, the environment, energy initiatives, food aid and the development of rural America.

A huge misconception exists in the minds of countless of Americans — The Farm Bill is simply legislation that permits direct payments to farmers—fixed per-acre payments based on a farm’s historic production of eligible crops regardless of yield amount.

In reality, 75 percent of the bill is devoted to funding for social and nutrition programs (such as food stamps), not farmer-insurance supports for times of market volatility and other operational challenges.

And, Farm Bill supports aren’t automatic. Farmers must opt-in for eligibility in Farm Bill programs.

The Farm Bill is controversial for multiple reasons. Many Americans don’t feel that farmers and producers should receive monetary assistance when other industries don’t receive the same types of protection, though farm programs are only 1 percent of the federal budget.

"(The farm industry) shouldn't be expecting help from the federal government when prices are good and when they have a good harvest," said U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio in a Lancaster Gazette story.

Some believe that the bill is a hodgepodge of too many items, so its complexity clouds the vital issues with too many auxiliary items. The Farm Bill contains 15 titles including commodity-price and income supports, farm credit, trade, agricultural conservation, research, rural development, energy and foreign and domestic food and other nutrition programs.

“The farm bill is just one big earmark,” said Sallie James, a trade policy analyst with the Cato Institute.

Add the dire federal budget deficit and the Farm Bill is compacted further.

“It won’t be a matter of creating grandiose new programs,” said House Agriculture Committee chairman Rep. Frank Lucas. “The question will be what programs do we save…How do we reconfigure things so as to try and achieve more with fewer dollars?”

There are several suggestions from commentators in the public discourse.

Popular Farm Bill Proposals
  • Completely eliminate direct payments (reinvests $5 billion in the federal budget)
  • Terminate biofuels subsidies
  • Strengthen the safety net
  • Strengthen crop insurance programs
  • Transition to a revenue-based market system
Given the current weather conditions, the need for a safety net for our nation’s food producers is more apparent than ever.

There are 32 states with some type of federal disaster declaration, as reported in a KFGO (Fargo-Moorhead, North Dakota, radio station) story. "If there was ever evidence that we need an effective farm safety net, this is it," said Senate Agriculture Committee Chairman Debbie Stabenow.

Conversations within the coming months will shape the policies and programs of the 2012 Farm Bill. Let’s hope that legislators remain cognizant of the necessity of a domestically produced, safe, affordable, sustainable, abundant food supply.

"Europe has a strategy and they want to dominate world agriculture," he said. "We have to spend money wisely and we have to fight for our agriculture base," said U.S. Sen. Kent Conrad, D-N.D. in a Prairie Star story.

What concerns you most about the future of the Farm Bill? What should it keep? Eliminate?

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