The Farm Bill: A Rancher’s Thoughts

The Farm Bill has been a “hot topic” in social media channels. A number of my friends and followers have asked my opinions on the subject, a challenge to do with a limited number of characters available on Twitter and Facebook.

Given the current political climate, we are facing an opportunity to make some major changes in the Farm Bill to make it more effective, efficient and at the same time reduce government spending. On this first Farm Bill post, I hope to touch briefly on each of five of the six components: Food Stamps, Child Nutrition, Commodity Programs, Conservation and Crop Insurance.

This post, while not entirely “complete,” is a first shot at trying to explain some of my thoughts. I look forward to the comments and dialogue that result. Anytime the Farm Bill is discussed, opinions are certain to come out. I only ask that the discourse be professional and I will be sure to post.

Background

In the early 20th century, federal farm programs were developed after an era of extremely low farm income, food scarcity and Dust Bowl conditions of the Depression. This, combined with a national focus to maintain domestically produced food security, prompted federal intervention in the agricultural marketplace.

 The farm programs culminated in The Agricultural Adjustment Act of 1949, more commonly known as the “farm bill,” which is the founding legislation on which all subsequent farm bills have been based. The farm bill is generally amended every five years, with the next amendment in 2012.

 The farm bill should respond to changes in agricultural production, consumer demand and trade negotiations. The current 2008 Farm Bill contains 15 titles, including new titles for horticulture and organic agriculture, livestock, crop insurance and disaster assistance programs. Interestingly, nearly 75 percent of farm bill funding is directed to nutrition programs such as food stamps and the school lunch program.

New, in the 2008 Farm Bill is an approach to address risk management and permanent disaster assistance rather than ad-hoc funding requests when disasters occur. While long-term solutions are a step in the right direction, this has led to sometimes intense discussions over which direction is the best to take.

 While debate over the effectiveness of new programs continues, there remains strong congressional support for traditional farm program payments such as direct and counter cyclical payments, and lukewarm support for the new average crop revenue program known as ACRE. It is well understood that farm bill politics are regional, rather than partisan.

With the current situation of our nation’s economy, wasteful spending by the federal government is being targeted. This is perhaps an opportune time to take a very close look at the Farm Bill and make some substantial changes that will benefit our countries food security, keep a healthy marketplace and still meet the needs of low-income families.

Food Stamps

  1. I fully support true low-income families receiving assistance for the purchase of milk, meat, fruits and vegetables.
  2. The ability of low-income families to purchase non-food items with the Food Stamp program MUST CEASE!

Child Nutrition

  1. Being able to provide at least one healthy meal to children is essential. As a former teacher I have seen firsthand the need of the students, especially those from low-income homes. Sadly, for many children, lunch at school is the only meal they receive.
  2. Meals provided at schools must be healthy and nutritious and include all of the food groups. Balance is essential.
  3. As a side note, I personally believe that schools that receive government funding for meals should also require that their students take a physical exercise class each year and also a nutrition and health course.

Commodity Programs

  1. Maintain payments to farms growing commodities on the actual acreage that base acreage is calculated for five years, or until trade deals can be modified to “fair” trade from “free” trade. All trade agreements must return to equal standards. Trade partners must be held to same regulatory standards that domestic farmers incur.
  2. Eliminate payments to farms not growing commodities specified on base acreage reports. For example, a farmer with an orchard on acreage listed for a base with rice, should not receive payments.

Crop Insurance

  1. A reliable insurance program should be available for producers to buy into on an annual basis for commodities that do not have insurance available through private firms.
  2. In order for producers to collect on a “loss,” the crop must be inspected and a determination on salvage value made to establish whether to plow under or harvest. The times of plowing under a crop first, then calling for inspection is over.
  3.  Insurance payments should be paid on the difference of revenue from sale subtracted from an average yield for crop based on surrounding historical data at market price, at time of claim.
  4.  Historical data should be on a “local” basis, within a county or within a 100 mile radius. The current regions utilized by Natural Resource Conservation Service (NRCS) and Farm Service Agency (FSA) cover to large of a geographic area to accurately represent yield and market price averages.
  5. Livestock indemnity programs must continue for operations that incur natural disasters and suffer loss of livestock due to predation. Payments should be based on a local basis as mentioned in #’s 3 and 4 above.
  6. Predation payments that are a result of loss from predators protected by the government should be at full market value, not a percentage.

Conservation

  1. Programs that encourage conservation, water efficiency and erosion control should be continued.
  2. Conservation easements on land that cannot be farmed due to government regulation should continue.
  3. Conservation easements on land that can be farmed should be discontinued.
  4. Programs to improve water efficiency should only be available to producers that are actually irrigating. Producers that have and are utilizing programs to install irrigation on land that has never been irrigated should not be eligible.
  5. Programs to assist producers with erosion sensitive land should be continued. However, once the land has been stabilized and best management practices are in place, payments should stop.
  6. Eligibility of producers to utilize programs need to be based on annual NET income, not GROSS.

Closing Thoughts

Certainly, this post does not cover the entire Farm Bill and its components, however, I tried to hit on the portions that I have seen producers and consumers take advantage of. They are also the areas where I know waste exists that can and should be cut. Feel free to share your thoughts, ideas, feedback and criticism. I look forward to the discussion.

  1. January 4, 2011 at 9:55 PM

    Great information and points, Jeff. Thanks for helping us understand this complex legislation.

    • commonsenseagriculture
      January 4, 2011 at 10:02 PM

      Thank you Joe. Just the tip of the ice berg, but had to start somewhere. Happy New Year!

  2. January 5, 2011 at 4:13 AM

    I never realized that the farm bill was actually a welfare bill. Thanks for the information and insight.

    • commonsenseagriculture
      January 5, 2011 at 7:07 AM

      Thank you for the comment Jim.

  3. Stephanie M at Together In Food
    January 5, 2011 at 6:54 AM

    Jeff,
    Thanks for this thoughtful post (I am also a fan of your straightforward, bullet list style!). It was illuminating for me to see that nearly 75% of the farm bill is for food stamps and child nutrition; that’s not something I feel gets discussed a lot in the public rhetoric about agriculture subsidies. Just for my own learning, what’s your thinking on why conservation easements on farmable land should be ended?

    • commonsenseagriculture
      January 5, 2011 at 7:23 AM

      Thank you Stephanie, you are not alone. I would venture to say that most people outside of agriculture do not realize that Food Stamps and Child Nutrition are the majority of the Farm Bill.
      As for your question regarding Conservation Easements, I have several concerns.
      1. I have a philosophical problem with anyone getting paid to do nothing.
      2. Paying for non-production is an artificial impact on the market and I prefer a market with as little government intrusion as possible.
      3. Having neighbors and knowing farmers and ranchers that have productive land under easements, I have also witnessed excessive growth of noxious weeds, increases in fire loads and basic degradation of what used to be healthy and productive land.
      I hope this helps answer your question. I appreciate your comments and look forward to your future thoughts and questions.

  4. Sheryl Valentiner
    January 5, 2011 at 7:51 AM

    Thanks for the post. We need so much more of this type of non-hysterical, jargon and talking point free information. I am also very interested in an honest assessment of the Food Safety bill. Washington passes so much legislation it’s difficult to keep up and the media only speaks in sound bites which are often partisan and unhelpful. I support all farming/ranching in the US and would prefer to have my food produced in my own country. Voters need to have accurate information so we know how and when to help. Keep us in the loop whenever you have time.

    • commonsenseagriculture
      January 5, 2011 at 8:11 AM

      Thank you for the comments Sheryl. I’ll see what I can do in regards to the Food Safety bill. I have read portions of it and it is a quagmire.

  5. Kara
    March 29, 2011 at 9:37 PM

    Since when can food stamps be used to buy anything other than food? Oh yeah, they can’t. Some foods are even restricted to users (hot ready to eat items, some nutritional bars). If someone is using their EBT card to purchase something other than food then those are NOT food stamp. Other government assistance funds (TANF for example) get put onto the same card (with distinct food and cash portions).

    • commonsenseagriculture
      March 29, 2011 at 9:43 PM

      Respectfully, what “is supposed to be allowed” and what actually occurs varies significantly. Within the last 12 months I have seen alcohol, cigarettes, soda, candy bars and condoms purchased with stamps and EBT cards. Enforcement must happen. Store clerks must flat out call the customers on it…what makes me really sick, is when I’ve seen some of these people with children in tow.

  1. January 10, 2011 at 2:17 PM
  2. January 20, 2011 at 2:47 AM
  3. March 14, 2011 at 6:33 AM

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