We've entered that time of the year when there isn't a whole lot of excitement going on, on the farm or really anywhere in agriculture - unless you count the continued lack of a Farm Bill. There's still hope, say some, for a 2012 Farm Bill, but if you take a look at your calendar, I'd say that hope is overly optimistic.
What is going on with this Farm Bill? Undoubtedly, the delay has something to do with the trillion-dollar deficit and budget talks. There's a lot at stake as Congress tries to figure out what should go and what should stay in their spending - well, really, it's our spending, it's our taxes.
I don't think a lot of people really understand how important the Farm Bill is. There's a lot more to it than farm subsidies. In fact, 80 percent of the bill has nothing at all to do with farms or farming.
The Farm Bill as it is today was born out of the 1930s when farm production was so successful that the supply literally drowned the prices. The first Farm Bill created initiatives to adjust the supply and therefore market prices. Today, the Farm Bill also includes energy, forestry, school lunches, and supplemental nutrition programs.
What makes the Farm Bill so controversial are the farm subsidies, which redistribute taxes from the wealthy to sometimes wealthy farm businesses and landowners. Chris Edwards, an economist with the Cato Institute, told NPR earlier this year of how the average income of farm households in 2010 was 25 percent above the average of all U.S. households.
Another controversial part of the Farm Bill is the food stamp program. The program has grown since the Bush administration increased eligibility as well as an aftermath of a poor economy, but the low-income families and individuals who receive these benefits are still the minority in the nation and members of other income classes understandably have a difficult time accepting these handouts, especially to people who are often painted as lazy and living off the system. However, Dottie Rosenbaum, a senior policy analyst at the Center on Budget and Policy Priorities, told NPR that the stigma of the food stamp program is over the top, that the increase in program participation should instead be a wake-up call that the economy still needs fixing.
The 2012 Farm Bill is still being hammered out, but it's projected to spend just under $1 trillion over the next 10 years, the vast majority of which - $768 billion - will go to food stamps! This total Farm Bill budget is more than the U.S. spends on education, though less than defense, but it's certainly nothing to sneeze at.
There's a lot of speculation as to what will make the cut in the 2012 Farm Bill. Certainly, some producers have nightmares about the entire farm subsidy program disappearing, and they wake up gasping for breath in the middle of the night. But here are the major components of this next bill:
· Price supports and/or crop insurance for commodity crops
· Conservation programs
· Agricultural exports and food aid, including humanitarian assistance to other nations
· Food assistance programs for low-income Americans
· Agricultural loans
· Forestry programs
· Renewable fuels programs, including ethanol
· Disaster assistance for community crops.
The biggest change is the transition away from direct farm payments that were instituted in the 1990s. They were designed to streamline the process but were given to farmers regardless of the type of year they had, so those who had bumper years still got farm payments. The shift will go from price supports to risk management and disaster assistance. It will be a hard switch for producers, but over time, this will save a lot of money as well as a lot of faith in the public toward the value of the overall Farm Bill.