Farm Program

July 17, 2014

Hello everybody out there in farm country. This radio commentary is brought to you by Monsanto, and John Deere. They are all friends, supporters, and allies of a healthy farm economy and prosperous rural America. Thank you.

And now for today’s commentary— Let’s talk about the farm bill today.

The level of support and type of support has evolved over time. Today’s bill isn’t my father’s farm bill.

The importance of farm supports to farmers has diminished over the years. When I came in as Secretary of Agriculture, the farm program was designed to support price and stabilize farm income. To lift price, we had acreage set asides. Take 10% of your corn land out of production, and you would qualify for price supports.

Things began to change over time. Exports continued to grow in importance. As a member of the World Trade Organization, the pressure began to build to ensure that a country’s farm program did not distort planting of the crops. We’re living with an infraction now. We have been paying Brazil millions of dollars because our cotton program has not satisfied WTO.

With most price supports gone, to help farmers we went to direct payments. These payments were hard to justify. You didn’t have to do anything to earn them. Now, they are.

Suddenly, we look at today’s farm bill and 80% of the money goes for food stamps, school lunch, and WIC. We’ve always called it a “farm bill,” but I’m not sure it is. As we wrote this last bill, the traditional alliance of farmers and nutrition advocates almost collapsed.

The Congress is working on the appropriations to fund our new farm bill. It’s not easy. School nutrition requirements are still in debate. When I look at the farm supports, I think they are too complicated. How did that happen? 600 companies spent half a billion dollars on lobbying for 2 years, telling the Congress what to put in the bill. It’s a food bill today. Not a farm bill.

On the farm side, the centerpiece of the bill is crop insurance. It is meant to manage the risk of draught, floods, and other crop problems. Crop insurance is government-subsidized to the level of 60%. To receive crop insurance, you must be in compliance with the conservation requirements of the bill.

Some individuals think this 5-year farm bill is our last. I doubt that. However, we could see farm and food part ways the next time around. Farm bills over the decades have become more market-oriented, and that’s where the next one will lead.

That’s it for this week. Until next week, I am John Block in Washington, D.C.