As Congress and the White House continue to do battle over the budget, taxes and the time of day, farmers, like most Americans these days, find themselves on the outside looking in. But the one thing that has been consistent over the last six years is the money the nation spends to support its farmers.
And the fact that Congress always seems to raid the farm supports piggy bank when money is tight.
Now before I go into the dollars and cents of the whole thing, let me remind you that U.S. farm spending accounts for just one-quarter of 1 percent of the entire federal budget. You read that correctly; one-quarter of 1 percent. And that’s not my number. That’s the number from the Congressional Budget Office, the CBO.
So just how much is spent per year on farmers and the checks they receive? Frankly it’s easier to tell you how much money wasn’t spent on farm programs over the last nine years. All payments to farmers are different, based on commodity grown, acres in production and whether those farmers are enrolled in conservation programs.
Again, according to CBO, U.S. farm spending has come in under budget for the last decade and has already contributed to deficit reduction. Not including additional cuts scheduled under sequestration, U.S. farm spending has been cut by about $18 billion over the past nine years. Few other federal programs can boast that.
In the most recent five years, average funding for U.S. farm policy, based on real funding levels, including crop insurance, was $12.9 billion per year, which is 28 percent less than the previous five-year average of $17.9 billion and 31percent less than the average of $18.8 billion that incurred in the preceding five years.
Conservation funding also has consistently come in under budget, while being subject to additional reductions in the annual appropriations process.
Not many people know it, but 75 percent of the estimated cost of the entire farm bill is for nutrition programs rather than commodity, conservation, crop insurance and export programs.
As for the farm payments piggy bank, the hard numbers tell the story in dollars and cents.
According to the Congressional Budget Office in 2012 the bipartisan House Farm Bill saved $35 billion while the Senate Farm Bill saved $23 billion. You’d think with a track record like that, getting a new farm bill passed would be a snap. But that’s not the case. Congress has extended the old farm bill to run until this September.
And while many are hoping for a new farm bill by summer, farmers and many in Washington aren’t holding their collective breaths.
Passing a Farm Bill would demonstrate that Washington can get its work done, can work in a bipartisan manner, and is serious about deficit reduction.
As the state’s largest general farm organization we strongly support the passage of a five-year farm bill this year to provide the long-term certainty producers need. Due to budget restrictions, it will be necessary to write the upcoming farm bill with fewer resources than have been available in the past.
Farm policy must help protect a stable food supply by ensuring responsible farm businesses stay in business during difficult times. Louisiana Farm Bureau believes the continuation of a multi-legged stool provides the best safety net for producers of program crops.
Any new farm policy should recognize that all crops and regions can’t be shoehorned into a one-size-fits-all program. Different perils confront producers of different crops – and even the same crop when produced in different regions. If a single policy cannot be developed to effectively address these unique perils, producers need a choice.
A necessary part of providing farmers real choices is to ensure that each option – revenue-based or price-based – provides effective protection in the event of price declines, particularly in multi-year low price scenarios.
And all the numbers notwithstanding, Americans should realize that sound U.S. farm policy is about U.S. competitiveness in a global marketplace, a marketplacedistorted by heavily subsidized and protected foreign competitors.
As the Federal Reserve put it recently, thanks to production agriculture, “rural America is leading the U.S. economic recovery,” just as it did through the last recession. Food security also remains extremely important to our national security.
There will be nine billion people on this planet by the year 2050 and we will need to double production, using less water and land, in order to feed them all. More than 21 million Americans have jobs rooted in agriculture.
Can our government really afford to ignore the fact that farm programs and the farmers who rely on them need to be fully funded?