In a period of tight federal budgets, we find it hard to defend direct payments when net farm income is projected to be at near record levels. As we said last week, farmers need to be protected against real losses. But spending money on programs that provide extra income when prices are high and offer ineffective support when farmers face real financial threats makes no sense. It is possible to provide defensible support to the nation’s crop farmers at a much lower cost than the federal government faces under current legislation
In addition, a defensible farm bill has to make sense to a wide range of voters and has to take their concerns into account as it meets the very real needs of working farmers. For some of these voters, their primary concerns are for the environment whether that means reducing the release of carbon dioxide from fossil fuels, or keeping farm chemicals out of the aquifer.
Other voters view farm legislation from their perspective as consumers. They want to make sure that their food does not contain residues of chemicals that were used in its production. At the same time they do not want to be exposed to bacterial matter that can send them to the emergency room.
Other voters are focused on the issue of hunger and seeing to it that the poor of society have access to an adequate supply of nutritious foods.
And quite frankly, a large number of voters are concerned about all three.
When we step back it becomes clear that the four areas of sustainability that we have been talking about are interrelated. Paying attention to them would provide a good starting point in the development of a defensible farm bill—a farm bill that would attract support well beyond the 2 percent of the population who earn their living as farmers.
Source: Daryll E. Ray and Harwood D. Schaffer, Agricultural Policy Analysis Center, University of Tennessee