Flinchbaugh: “Washington is dysfunctional,” farm bill will stall

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The U.S. Senate began consideration yesterday on a five-year farm bill, a program that has drawn criticism from both sides of the political aisle. Deficit hawks, in particular, have drawn a bead on farm subsidies as a way to reduce government spending. The current farm bill is set to expire at the end of this year, but passing a new one will prove to be difficult, says one veteran ag policy expert.

Dr. Barry Flinchbaugh, professor of agricultural economics at Kansas State University, says record net farm income, federal deficits at record levels and the current acrimony in Congress have created a “perfect storm,” making this an extremely difficult year to pass a farm bill.

You have people saying we don’t need a safety net under farm income because net farm income is at record levels. They’re very short-sighted,” Flinchbaugh said during an interview with Richard Baker broadcast on the K-State Radio Network program “Perspective,” a weekly public affairs program produced by Research and Extension at Kansas State University.

Flinchbaugh warned that the good times for farmers and ranchers will not last forever, and that American politicians should consider that as they debate the farm bill.

“Agriculture – and any industry that has a lot of competition – eventually will overproduce for the demand, and eventually will get into a cost-price squeeze, and that’s starting to happen right now if you look at the cost of fuel, seed, fertilizer, etc.” A major reason current farm profits are high, he said, “is the cost of money is as low as it’s been in my lifetime.”

Flinchbaugh praised Sen. Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.) and Sen. Pat Roberts (R-Kan.) for their bipartisan committee work on a Senate-version of the farm bill. But he expressed little optimism that such cooperation would continue as the bill moves forward.

“Farm bills have traditionally been bipartisan,” he said. “The difference now is that bipartisanship is basically dead in this country.”

Flinchbaugh believes the next farm bill will cut the safety net of farm programs “drastically,” and acknowledges that America can’t continue with such huge deficits.

“Our currency and economy cannot sustain these deficits.” Never one to mince his words, Flinchbaugh said, “Anybody who is not an ideological wingnut knows we have to cut spending and increase taxes and get the budget balanced. And then the economy will take off.”

That said, Flinchbaugh noted that farm bill spending represents a tiny fraction of the federal budget and at some point farmers will need a safety net. He said current high farm prices are “not a new normal. This is part of the cycle.”

“If you want long-term stability – and remember, we’re dealing with the food supply – you need some kind of a safety net under farm income.”

Flinchbaugh has long been active in the development of U.S. agricultural policy. His service on numerous national task forces, boards of directors, and advisory groups has allowed him to provide input on domestic food and agriculture policy. He served as Chairman of the Commission on 21st Century Production Agriculture authorized in the 1996 FAIR ACT.

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Farm and ranch country Oklahoma  |  June, 06, 2012 at 09:06 AM

It's funny how the American farmer and rancher only wants the federal government around when the government is giving them money or leasing them land at below market rates. Any other time the farmer and rancher wants government "off their back". It's way past time the farmer and rancher learn to stand on their own two feet.

The Old Skeptic    
Texas  |  June, 06, 2012 at 11:34 AM

You have just stated the approach of everybody, corporate and individual, in this country toward the federal government. Send me the money but stay off my back.

Chuck Carlson    
Colorado  |  June, 06, 2012 at 09:21 AM

Demand Consumer Revolt Ethanol mandates are a related part of the food price runaway. Called “Renewable Fuels” legislation, it is every bit the root of the problem in elevating food prices as administered by the giant, unaccountable EPA. It is now clear that, because it is a net consumer of hydrocarbons, ethanol hurts the environment, rather than preserving it. But the mandates that we burn corn in our gas tanks at a huge cost to ourselves, continues. Why? Because Congress cannot say "NO" to the giant agribusiness lobbies who are demanding a new, even cushier farm bill and bigger ethanol mandates. whtt.org

Kansas  |  June, 06, 2012 at 09:30 AM

It sure is easy to criticize farmers and ranchers on a full stomach, isn't it fellas?

iowa  |  June, 06, 2012 at 09:52 AM

Flinchbaugh is not too bright,"“Anybody who is not an ideological wingnut knows we have to cut spending and increase taxes and get the budget balanced. And then the economy will take off.” increasing taxes stifles economic development. Sure the budget needs to be balanced but if u cut the capital gains tax and corporate tax you would gain more revenue. iowa tax rates for corporations when added to other US taxes are the highest in the world. Now i am not big on gov. but protecting the food supply is critical. Iowa loses almost 10 percent of farmland a year to development. this will never be reversed. If farmers are not supported they will eventually sell out to developers AND there is no more farmland to be created. it is gone. We rent ground to the gov at far lower than market rates, it protects the land gives us a long term guaranteed amount of money and helps both parties. we rent 6000 dollar an acre land out for 150 dollars an acre per year. That is money well spent by the gov to insure safety & stability in the food supply.

Southern Oklahoma  |  June, 06, 2012 at 10:02 AM

The subsidies the farmer and oil companies are not for them.They are subsiding the consumer.Cut them out and guess who is going to make up for the loss of profits.That's right-we all do.

USA  |  June, 06, 2012 at 10:25 AM

I smell another big bank bailout. The last several bailouts made farm subsidies seem like a very, very cheap way to guarantee we remain a world power with heavy machinery manfacturing capability. On the other hand, subsidies of solar and wind distort economic activity and waste taxpayers' dollars. Bank of America made a $477 Million loan to Greece. It is time to tell banks we will not fall for that trick again. Pass the farm bills now, not later.

USA  |  June, 06, 2012 at 10:31 AM

To get the economy going again we must undo what the enemies of America did to us: They cut off our access to natural resources. Every product and job is related to development of one or more natural resource in minerals, plants and animals. Radical bureaucratic diktat is cutting off our use of coal, water and trading job generation for useless bait fish and unnecessarily boosting ocean fish stocks and protecting fish goobling sharks, et cetera, et cetera. Until the madness stops, we cannot continue to be a world power.

June, 06, 2012 at 10:40 AM

Our agricultural system is at a cross roads. Average farm age is 58 years and could be 64 by 2030. Land prices for farm and ranch property is only for the wealthy. Competition from development and non-profit wildlife organization. US cow herd is in short supply. Pile on the cost of equipment livestock, fuel, fertilizer (we have outsourced a major portion of our nitrogen fertilizer production) etc and you have the perfect storm. Increased gov regulation and our deficit and debt and it does not get any better. Fuel cost have driven increases in food cost, resulting in a large number of US citizens having food/hunger issues. How do ag producer make cheap food with high input costs? There is opportunity for agriculture with a growing world population. How will society and our leaders respond?

Olathe, KS  |  June, 06, 2012 at 05:12 PM

I sure wish we could show the skeptics what the true cost of food and fuel would be in this country without government support. Maybe that time will come... If so, you better have the savings built up!

marty l    
michigan  |  June, 06, 2012 at 07:14 PM

Ag policy has always been a cheap food policy. Safety net or subsidies only ensured that farmers, ranchers & rest in ag related businesses could live in dignified poverty.

Texas  |  June, 07, 2012 at 09:34 AM

Not all farmers and ranchers were created equally. If one were to disaggregate the farm subsidies, which producers would have received which percentage of all the agricultural subsidies? I read recently that the "giant' agribusinesses received 80% of the subsidies. Do those companies actually need a safety net?

South Dakota  |  June, 07, 2012 at 09:59 AM

As producers we would all be better off without a safety net. We are encouraged to make bad decisions because of government programs. The rising cost of land is also do to government programs. Get rid of them all and let us survive on our own skills and ideas. We don't take payments now and I don't plan on it any time soon. Most of the payments go to large farmers who farm the system. Eliminating programs is not going to hurt the smaller players because most of us don't go through the hassel now. You need a full time government employee to figure out the programs and only the large operators are really good at gaming the system.

Kansas  |  June, 07, 2012 at 11:56 AM

Food is THE strategic material. Protection is necessary for our nation's stability. We protect homeowners,et al, with FEMA and other programs. When farmers buy their inputs at retail, but have to sell to just a very few large buyers of their product at wholesale, it seems to me to be a failed business model that they make work with added effort.

SW Oklahoma  |  June, 07, 2012 at 12:20 PM

Before you bash farmers get the money back from all the bankers that were bailed out and who continue to get virtually free money. Also, get the money back from IMF Global. All the financial community has engaged in illegal and unethical activity that goes un-punished and you want to go after farmers?

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