What is it that’s so difficult about the farm bill?
Everyone in agriculture knew there would be substantial cuts in the new farm bill. Most agricultural organizations had signaled that a “proportional cut” would be acceptable. We’ve realized that preserving the most essential element of the legislation – crop insurance – would be a realistic goal.
Toward that end, the House Agriculture Committee had been working with what farmers believe is a realistic number – $23 billion in cuts to the farm bill, with $15 billion of it coming from the commodity title. Recently, the House Budget Committee threw out a new and completely unrealistic number of $181 billion in farm bill cuts, including $31 billion in cuts to farm programs and crop insurance. This is not a proportional number and it’s hard to imagine how we can come up with a workable crop insurance program within that budget framework.
It’s hard to find a federal program that has worked as well as the federal farm program. Its detractors are loud and persistent, but since the 1930s this legislation has ensured a steady and reasonably priced supply of food and fiber, created and sustained millions of jobs and kept farmers on the land in lean times. We’ve achieved all of this for an investment of less than half of 1 percent of the federal budget.
People are disconnected from the land and their food supply these days. Things that work well don’t require a second thought. That’s why people do not understand the tremendous risk and act of faith in planting a crop. It can disappear slowly in a relentless drought, like we saw in Texas just last year. It can also be lost in an hour of pounding by a spring hailstorm.
Some suggest privatizing crop insurance. It’s already a partnership of private and government resources, but that risk is so great that no private company can underwrite it all without increasing the premium beyond a level any farmer can afford to pay with the sale of a crop.
Many of the tools in the old farm program – direct payments, target prices and commodity loan programs – are all likely to be gone. We’ve pinned our hopes on a workable crop insurance program.
Without that, Americans might have to get used to the idea that our food and fiber could soon come from beyond our own shores.
Payments to European farmers are roughly three times those received by U.S. farmers. Do we really expect farm and ranch families to compete with the treasuries of the nations with which we compete for markets?
Congress needs to get real about preserving crop insurance, the last vestige of a safety net for American agriculture.
Kenneth Dierschke is president of the Texas Farm Bureau and an American Farm Bureau Federation board member. This article first appeared on TFB’s blog Texas Agriculture Talks and is redistributed with permission.