This is the year lawmakers in Washington craft a new farm bill, and whether or not Congress will approve a new national farm law this year is still up in the air; the certainty is that without adequate funding, any farm bill can’t be as effective as it needs to be.
National farm policy must strike a balance between the need for a strong, effective safety net to protect farmers and ranchers against catastrophic revenue losses and fiscal soundness for the nation.
“The new farm bill must be a fiscally responsible package that meets spending reduction targets and assures taxpayers that America ’s farmers are making wise use of tax dollars,” said Ronnie Anderson, president of the Louisiana Farm Bureau Federation. “Continuation of a multi-faceted approach that funds all USDA programs remains the best approach for providing a fair and effective safety net. This should consist of a strong crop insurance program, continuation of the current marketing loan provisions and a catastrophic revenue loss program.”
The challenge all of agriculture is facing right now is just how to draft a farm bill that provides a strong, consistent safety net that protects farmers against crippling revenue declines, whether caused by falling markets or Mother Nature, while at the same time remaining cognizant of budget deficit challenges and changing public sentiment.
It’s amazed me over the years that the cost of farm bill spending gets so much bad press every time we start this debate. Money for the farm bill falls within the budget of the United States Department of Agriculture and has since the first farm bill was written in 1936.
But also included in the USDA’s budget is the cost of the national food stamp program. According to the Congressional Budget Office the current farm bill calls for $59.1 billion in farm commodity program spending over five years (2008 to 2012.) During this same period, however, food stamps will cost the American taxpayer $186 billion. In fact, under the Obama administration food stamp spending is up nearly $30 billion since 2008, while commodity payments have decreased by nearly $13 billion since the last farm bill.
And sometimes I think people forget it’s farmers who provide the food purchased with food stamps. Given these facts I’ve often wondered why there hasn’t been more of a taxpayer outcry over food stamp spending than the money farmers receive to keep us fed and clothed.
No doubt debate on this issue will continue through the summer as lawmakers grapple with the political, social and economic complexities of just how much of your tax dollars farmers will receive. The one thing that likely won’t garner much media attention is the fact that President Obama’s 2013 budget calls for a $32 billion decrease in farm spending over the next decade, while WIC and child nutrition programs are projected to increase nearly $2 billion in 2013 alone.
Looks like farmers and ranchers have their work cut out for them. Again.