Posts Tagged ‘2012 Farm Bill’

Mention ‘economics’ and most folks immediately groan, roll their eyes, throw up or want to take a nap. Or all of those things. Oh, wait, you mean I’m the only one that does that? Are you sure? Oh, okay, if you say so. 

Nothing against all of those economists out there, it just isn’t my cup of tea. For me, it’s like trying to teach a monkey to speak German (yes, I’m the monkey in this case).

But, a post on the Freakonomics Blog titled Could It Be That U.S. Farm Policy Isn’t Making Us Fatter? just may have changed my mind — at least in the boring department. Don’t get me wrong, it’s still a foreign language snooze fest, but in this case, the research certainly piqued my interest. 

Author Steve Sexton’s entry covered recent research surrounding a hot topic in this year’s Farm Bill debate — are federal subsidies that support the production of corn and soybeans and other staple crops to blame for Americans’ expanding waistlines?  

Food reformers like Michael Pollan are quick to answer with a resounding ‘Yes.’ But, the finding of agricultural economists Bradley Rickard, Abigail Okrent and Julian Alston is that “agricultural policies have discouraged food consumption and mitigated the effects of other factors that have encouraged obesity.”

Rickard, Okrent and Alston even studied the impact of removing only cro subsidies and leaving border policies in place and found that per capita food consumption would decline by 995-1,846 calories per year, lowering the average American’s weight by 0.28 to 0.53 pounds per year. While this may seem to prove food reformer’s case, the study authors says this is a “tiny” effect of farm subsidies on American waistlines and could be offset with as little as two hours of running per year.

In fact, they found that the net effect of eliminating U.S. agricultural policy is to increase per capita calorie consumption by 1,952-4,4771 calories per year, leading to a 0.56-1.36 pound annual increase in body weight.

According to the study’s authors, “Contrary to common claims in the popular media, farm policies have more likely slowed the rise in obesity in the United States.”

So, what’s the take away? According to Sexton, it all boils down to this: 

“In other words, Americans have not been lured into unhealthy diets by agricultural policies designed to appease corporate titans. Instead, Americans have chosen their diets in a marketplace that is relatively unaffected if not unencumbered by crop subsidies.

As Congress prepares to reauthorize the quinquennial Farm Bill this year in the presence of a towering budget deficit, commodity supports are likely to undergo careful scrutiny, as well they should. But here’s hoping that deliberations on Capital Hill will be more informed by research from the academic community than by innuendo from a food movement built on yet another fallacy.”

 That’s certainly not German to me.

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For farmers across the Midwest, the 2012 Farm Bill battle cry has largely become one of maintaining stability and consistency. At least that’s what legislators heard from Midwestern farmers during the recent House Committee on Agriculture Farm Bill field hearing, held March 23 at Carl Sandburg College in Galesburg, Ill. 

“We depend on the stability and certainly of long-term farm policy,” said Blake Gerard, a rice, soybean, wheat and corn producer from McClure, Ill. “Without farm policy, U.S. producers would be unilaterally exposed to global markets distorted by withering high foreign subsidies and tariffs, and have no comprehensive safety net.” 

Gerard wasn’t alone in his sentiments. Nearly all members of the ten person panel described the need for a five-year Farm Bill, passed this year, to help give them some stability when planning for the future. 

About 300 people attended the hearing, which was the second of four field hearings planned. The 46-member House Committee on Agriculture hopes the hearings, which are to be held at different locations across the country, will allow them to better understand what the nation’s farmers want to see included in the next Farm Bill. 

But, crop insurance and passing a five-year Farm Bill this year weren’t the only topics of discussion. Hearing host and committee member, Rep. Bobby Schilling, R-Ill., wanted to know more about how farmers are communicating with consumers, too.

For more information, he turned to panelist Deb Moore, a corn, soybean and beef producer from Roseville, Ill. Moore has been actively involved with the Illinois Farm Families® program and filled Rep. Schilling in on how she educates consumers about crop insurance and the Farm Bill.

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Any time you get thousands of farmers together in one room, you’re bound to hear one of three things dominating the conversation: farm policy, politics or the weather. At this year’s American Farm Bureau Federation (AFBF) annual meeting in Honolulu, Hawaii, farm policy was to be top-of-mind in nearly all conversations and speeches — especially because this year is a farm bill year.

The current Farm Bill will expire in September 2012. Will we have a new one by then? Or, just a series of extensions?

In fact, AFBF even dedicated one of their breakout sessions to discussing the farm bill and what farmers can expect now that the super committee tasked with cutting the federal deficit has failed.

AFBF Senior Director of Congressional Relations, Mary Kay Thatcher, provided farmers in attendance with some interesting information regarding the farm bill — and it certainly wasn’t all good news.

According to AFBF, now that the 2012 farm bill will be drafted in a more traditional fashion, it may not even be finished before the close of 2012 and may well stretch into 2013.

That also means that more cuts may be made because, according to Thatcher, many politicians consider agriculture to be the low-hanging fruit from which federal funding can be picked.

Now, before you say this is a traditional everyone-is-out-to-get-agriculture post, consider this: The agriculture community is more than happy to do its fair share when it comes to helping reduce the federal deficit, as evidenced by the proposal the House and Senate Agriculture Committees submitted to the super committee.

According to AFBF, agriculture’s fair share of decreasing the federal deficit would be about $6.7 billion. The House and Senate Agriculture Committees’ proposal to the super committee would have cut $23 billion over ten years out of agriculture-based programs like direct payments and conservation — significantly more than agriculture’s fair share.

To get that $23 billion, direct payments were eliminated and conservation programs were reorganized and reduced. The agriculture committees’ farm bill proposal did include crop insurance and allowed for new programs like ARC and STAX — both shallow loss programs aimed at supporting farmers when times aren’t so good. However, under a more traditional farm bill drafting process, these too could be greatly reduced or eliminated, which leads most people to question what that will mean for farmers.

But, the real question isn’t what will happen to farmers — because most farmers can already answer that question. Most consumers — or at least the talking heads on network and cable TV — believe that farm supports serve only to help wealthy farmers with large operations get richer. They say, when it comes to farm supports, we should rip the Band-Aid off quickly and get rid of all farm supports at the same time. After all, ripping the Band-Aid off quickly will mean it will hurt less, right?

Unfortunately, commodity prices won’t always be high, the weather won’t always be agreeable and operation costs will continue to go up. Those variables affect all farmers, not just the wealthy.

The real question is what will happen to the farming and rural communities in which those farmers live. Because, aside from supporting farmers, farm supports also aid rural and farming communities.

Like the old adage says, farmers are land-rich and cash-poor. Farmers receiving payments from crop insurance or the Conservation Reserve Program (CRP) don’t just bury the money in the backyard, stash it under the mattress or stick it in a cash-bearing mutual fund.

Farmers receiving payments from farm support programs put that money back into the community. They use that money to buy tractors from local dealers or make equipment repairs at local businesses. They use that money to improve their operations or invest in the future. They buy seed form local dealers, fertilizer from local cooperatives and even pay off outstanding bills.

In most cases, the money farmers receive from farm supports really serves to stimulate the economy of rural America — a point proven when many rural and farming towns weathered the recession better than many other areas.  

In the end, ripping the Band-Aid off quickly still hurts and, in this case, it will hurt more than just farmers — it will hurt rural economies, too.

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