In my 50 years of experience with farm legislation there has never been a greater mystery as to what the next 6 year phase of farm support legislation may hold for American Agriculture. For decades many have predicted there would not be a “next” farm bill and of course the strong political power of America’s breadbasket proved that they were always wrong. It will still be wrong when Congress gets done debating what subsidies will be between 2012 and 2018, but never has it been a greater mystery — all because of the pressure on cutting our nation’s budget.
On November 23, the super budget committee of Congress will report to the president on how they plan to cut $1.2 trillion from the U.S. budget over the next decade. There is no doubt that as little as we know of the the farm bill, we definitely know it will be in the cross hairs of the budget cutters. Sadly, few Americans know that as much as 60 percent of the cost of the perennial farm bill goes to food stamps and other programs to bring food to the poor — including the school lunch programs.
Conventionally, farm support has consisted of minimal direct payments to farmers with a historical record of farming set amounts of acres of various crops and harvesting average yields over a certain time period. For this they may receive a small stipend per bushel of grain. They must also agree to fix that farm acreage and not over produce on additional acreage. Additionally the government guaranteed a price support through what are called counter cyclical payments to make up the difference between the market price of a grain and minimum support payment guaranteed by the government. In recent years money has been paid to farmers for improving various environmental aspects of their land.
Possibly the least controversial farm support program is government subsidized crop insurance which is not likely to be reduced from the farmers standpoint but the amount kept by the insurance companies who sell the insurance on behalf of the government could well be cut.
Frankly over the years the various programs available to farmers have become so complex that few farmers understand them without the aid of assistance from advisors or extension agents. But the bottom line of it all is that really no one has a clue what will come down in 2012 if in fact time even allows passage of a farm bill with so many other issues on the table in an election year.
What agriculture knows for sure is that this administration has not been been friendly to agriculture as a result of continuously more stringent and unnecessary regulations handed down from USEPA, continued support of renewable energy such as wind and solar which will drive up electricity rates and an unwillingness of the department of Interior to allow development of much of our nations wealth in fossil fuels which would lower fuel costs on the farm. Additionally the department of labor has refused to look seriously at a guest labor program to harvest fruits and vegetables some of which end up rotting on the vine.
On Nov. 23, we may know a little more about a potential 2012 farm bill and then again we may not but we know for sure that agriculture is not going to prosper under a continuation of this administrations attitude toward small business in which 99% of the nations farms can be counted.