Commentary: Farm Bill too important for political games

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Editor's note: The following commentary was written by Gene Hall, Public Relations Director for the Texas Farm Bureau and was originally posted at Texas AgTalks.

A lot of the public and more than a few politicians don’t pay too much attention to the Farm Bill, crop insurance or agricultural policy.

Once in a while, though, you get a “teachable moment.” That moment is the drought that currently grips the Midwest, threatening grain crops like the epic drought of last year devastated livestock and other crops in Texas and the Southwest.

The extremes of both political parties dislike what is often called the Farm Bill. There are very few legislative packages in the history of the republic that have worked as well, but it still pulls in some hate.

The green left extremists of the Environmental Working Group would like a bill that makes them an unwelcome partner in virtually every decision a farmer or rancher makes. On the right, extremists just want to cut—slash, eliminate, no to everything, don’t spend a dime, cut, cut and then cut some more. Food stamps and other kinds of food assistance for the poor? Cut. Conservation? Cut. Support for farmers? Cut even deeper. Yes, all of that is part of the Farm Bill.

Well, the Farm Bill that is being crafted now to replace the current one that expires in September started in an atmosphere of austerity and is not getting any better. 

Enemies of the Farm Bill are never very honest. They paint it as a welfare program, which it has never been. The Farm Bill is a mechanism to keep farmers on the land to preserve our national ability to grow our own food, fiber and fuel. A national security issue, you say? Yeah, it sounds like one to me, too.

Once you sell it as welfare, even if that’s not honest, you can start laying on the drivel about “small farms” and “payment limits” and so on.

Well this year folks, we’re about out of stuff to cut. There are still a few things to talk about, but we’re down to the bone. The only thing left that really matters much is crop insurance. Without that, we are a nation of food importers. If anyone tells you different, they are either clueless or dishonest.

Farmers have skin in the game on crop insurance, but no crop can yield enough to cover the entire premium. A subsidy is required to make it work.  U.S. and Texas farmers compete in a world where European agricultural subsidies are at least triple what farmers here receive. Could that be because hunger is a recent part of their institutional memory? 

Around the world, tariffs on U.S. agricultural products average more than 60 percent. Foreign agricultural products coming in to the U.S.? A tariff of only 14 percent is collected. 

Without crop insurance, the majority of Texas farmers and ranchers are already out of business. Without it, many Midwest farmers would join them this year.

In all their thick-headed short-sightedness, U.S. policy-makers are busy creating a world where U.S. farmers must compete against the treasuries of foreign powers. It’s David vs. Goliath. If we don’t mess with crop insurance, they have at least a fighting chance. If we do, most of your dinner will come from somewhere else. I’m not comfortable with that. Are you?

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USA  |  July, 24, 2012 at 03:56 PM

How curious, as I understand farm programs, that direct payments are allowable under the World Trade Organization rules, but are the least palatable in America. In other words, Brazil can knock our socks off with WTO sanctions in cotton production but get direct payments that are not in violation of WTO rules. On another note, Brazil, a contractual and philosophical bed partner with China is, in my opinion, as industrialized as any South American country yet got us into trouble by pitting a peasant againsnt Farmer Joe. Something is not right about that picture.

USA  |  July, 24, 2012 at 04:01 PM

We need an agriculture safety net so Farmer Joe can compete against foreign governments that engage in farming. Our heavy machinery capacity is dependent on development of our natural resources in plants, minerals and animals. History proves repeatedly that no nation, not even America, can be a world super power without the present heavy machinery capacity able to out-produce foreign enemies. Our enemies understand this dynamic even if we don't.

Washington State  |  August, 03, 2012 at 12:55 PM

Money paid to farmers should be for public goods, like conservation and divorced from what they produce. Subsidies given for production have primarily provided middlemen corporations with cheap commodities that they can then turn around and have a large mark up for selling. Production subsidies have primarily benefited agribusiness and not farmers.

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