Jolley: Five Minutes with the "Not Cool" Farm Bill
The new Farm Bill will allow USDA to continue record accomplishments on behalf of the American people, while providing new opportunity and creating jobs across rural America. It will enable USDA to further expand markets for agricultural products at home and abroad, strengthen conservation efforts, create new opportunities for local and regional food systems and grow the biobased economy. It will provide a dependable safety net for America's farmers, ranchers and growers. It will maintain important agricultural research, and ensure access to safe and nutritious food for all Americans."
Probably more out of exhaustion than any real passion for the bill, the Senate adopted the Farm Bill conference report by a vote of 68-32 and the House adopted the report by a vote of 251-166. The House cut about $40 billion over the next 10 years, a strange political maneuver since the bill only covers the next five years.
Farm programs suffered from a few unexpected hatchet strikes in the new bill, including the elimination of the direct payments subsidy. Those subsidies amount to a hefty $5 billion a year and are paid to farmers whether or not they grow crops. The new bill moves some of the money to government-subsidized crop insurance. Turning away from what many saw as program that subsidized farmers for not working into protection from natural disasters made sense to most lawmakers who were feeling pressure on the home front to do something about the government's often ill-advised use of tax dollars.
MCOOL might be the real cow pie in the punch bowl, though. It is one of the most hotly contested, but rarely intelligently debated issues in the bill – one that could cause a disastrous trade war between all three of the North American trading partners. To be fair, it would be Mexico and Canada in one corner and the U.S. in the other. MCOOL is an animal ag related issue that could sprout long and ugly roots that would disrupt the flow of a lot of unrelated goods and services if it's allowed to stay in its current form.
It has the potential of being a multi-billion dollar game changer in the usually warm trading relationship between the three countries. Here is what some of the key players are saying while they rattle their sabers:
Scott George, President of the National Cattlemen's Beef Association:
"This mandatory label by the U.S. government has failed in every regard. It has caused costs to be put on the back of the producer, rancher or farmer like myself with no benefits."