Farm Bill extension reaction mostly negative

First of all, I swear we will deal with issues other than the Farm Bill on this three day old blog.  But, hey, it is the big news story on the moment in agriculture today.  And I promised a summary of reaction to Congress' nine month extension of the 2008-2012 Farm Bill.

It's extremely hard to find positive reaction, but there was some at the top of the food chain.  The International Dairy Foods Association – which represents some of the biggest supermarkets and food processors in the world – praised the deal as a take-our-breath-and-reconsider moment, allowing "Congress time to fully and openly consider future reforms to our nation's dairy policies".  IDFA and other large dairy processors like Dean Foods have been opposed to a milk supply management program that was included in the new Farm Bill that passed the Senate last summer.

The Ohio Corn and Wheat Growers Association, by comparison, called the extension a "short-term Band Aid" that was better than nothing, but director Tadd Nicholson told Farm and Dairy:

Versions of the farm bill considered by the House and Senate for months would have saved at least $23 billion in the federal budget, including significant fiscally responsible reforms initiated by grain farmers.  Instead of taking that savings, Congress allowed the farm bill to get caught up in Washington politics and postponed their work for another day.

Closer to our home, the New York Farm Bureau agreed with that "better than nothing" notion.  But spokesman Steve Ammerman wrote me that NYFB was disappointed the dairy margins insurance program (the one the big processors don't like) was left out.  And it was also disappointed fruit and vegetable, organic and disaster relief programs were cut:

New York has a wonderfully diverse agriculture community, and many of our specialty crop growers were denied access in this extension to a proper safety net or disaster assistance should we see another storm like Irene or Lee. Also, a number of other programs supporting agriculture  research and organic production saw no restoration in funding.

Meanwhile, the Environmental Working Group – which has been strongly critical of subsidies in Farm Bills past – took aim at the continuation of direct payments in the extension, while conservation and organic programs were cut:

Soil erosion, land conversion, and water pollution from farm chemicals are enormous challenges. Yet this extension will hobble a major conservation program, while channeling billions in cash payments to already highly profitable farm businesses. It makes little sense to cut support for organics, the fastest growing sector of the agriculture economy, and to curtail a long list of other initiatives designed to increase access to healthy food and create new economic opportunities for family farms.

Farm Policy, an excellent blog on – guess, what? – farm policy, has a great summary of more reaction, including anger and disbelief from Minnesota Congressman Collin Peterson, the ranking Democrat on the House Agriculture Committee, who told Politico:

Upset is an understatement,” Peterson told POLITICO. “I’m not going to talk with those guys. I’m done with them for the next four years. They are on their own. They don’t give a sh-it. about me, anyway.

That Politico article also speaks to agriculture's weakening political clout, as farming and manufacturing is concentrated in fewer and fewer hands.

That echoes USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack's comments last month about rural America becoming "less relevant".  Stop by tomorrow for a discussion (and, hopefully, conversation with you) of Vilsack's ideas.

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One Comment

  1. I love these words, and the way we come to understand them…words like "entitlements". It has become a dirty word somehow, implying that those recipients are NOT somehow actually entitled.
    "Subsidies" is another one. What does that word actually mean?? Our government has gotten into the habit of handing out monies to the parties who make the most noise…the well funded groups who can afford to put full time lobbyists in the faces of our elected representatives. These funds are seldom given on the basis of need, and often work against the free flow of "the market"…another phrase we love to banter about.
    The truth is that subsidies handed out to large interests too often work two ways. Federal government support of the interstate highway system may have been a great thing, but it robbed us of passenger rail service all across the country. Subsidies given to the coal, oil, and gas industries for "exploration" have underwritten the real cost of the fuels we burn, and have prevented the US from creating the wind and solar infrastructure we need to move into the 21st century.
    We also subsidize industrial farming. In a time of rising global hunger, we subsidize farmers who sell their corn crop to the ethanol industry.In a time of increasing drought we subsidize water well drilling to support inappropriate grazing in the hottest and driest areas of the country.In a time of increasing obesity, our wise overseers pump money into those commodities like corn(syrup) and soy(fed to cows), artificially supporting poor food choices, and disastrous long-term medical costs.
    Locally our own dairy farms are impacted by a complex system of "price supports" and "incentives", whereby we have created a dairy industry that pays farmers less for milk than it costs to produce. We have all but guaranteed the loss of family operations, and forced the creation of massive farms that pollute our waters, foul our air, and funnel ever more income into fewer and fewer hands.
    The Farm Bill could work to rectify many of these concerns, but our congress has become an ineffective body, incapable of planning, or progress, and beholden to those with the money.

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