Suggestions on how to change the 2012 farm bill are popping up faster than jack-o’-lanterns. Like this gap-toothed hallmark of Halloween, however, most are hollow, scary and shed little light.
Take the Oct. 17 announcement by Congressional aggies that Senate and House ag leaders had agreed to a “bipartisan, bicameral recommendation” to slice $23 billion from mandatory and discretionary farm bill spending over the coming 10 years.
The move comes five weeks before the Joint Select Committee on Deficit Reduction — the so-called Super Committee — reveals where its budget ax will fall to lop $1.2 trillion from federal spending over the same period.
Ag cuts, reportedly, stack up like this: $14 billion or so to commodity programs, $6.5 billion to conservation programs and $4 to $5 billion to food assistance programs. Remarkably, these proposed changes to your business, community and family were developed without one public hearing, not one witness to judge them fair or foul and, presumably, no junior member of either committee saying one word.
Capitol Hill can be a messy place nowadays but it ain’t the Politburo. Public officials must conduct the public’s business in public. Any deal coming from anything less than an open process carries the stench of cronyism. And, brother, this one does.
The biggest stinker is how the crop insurance industry somehow, again, comes out smelling like a rose. Under the aggie plan “… crop insurance expenditures are largely left untouched,” reported Politico, the Capitol Hill publication, Oct. 17, “and the numbers reflect a dramatic shift away from production or cash assistance and more toward new revenue protection or high-end crop insurance that would cover up to 95 percent of income.”
Such a deal: 95 percent of farm income — well, 95 percent of the income for farm bill crops such as corn, wheat, soybeans and cotton — would be protected. Poor you if you do something as non-ag as feed hogs or milk cows.
Cows are exactly what the American Farm Bureau Federation had when it analyzed this out-of-the-dark idea of swapping more crop insurance for direct payments.
In a warmly worded, three-page letter to every senator Oct. 17, AFBF Pres. Bob Stallman slammed the swap as a “moral hazard” that would bring more risk into farming, drive up land costs and create “a further barrier of entry for young farmers and (become) another factor driving further farm consolidation.”
Way to go, Big Bob.
All this activity — there’s even urgent talk that a complete 2012 farm bill will be stitched together before Nov. 1, again, without one public hearing or witness — flies right past any debate of reforming or rewriting the current law.
In short, no one is asking whether today’s remodeled version of 1996′s Freedom to Farm remains the best instrument to ensure the nation an adequate, fairly priced supply of food and fiber.
Our good friend at the University of Tennessee, Daryll Ray, at the behest of the National Farmers Union, did ask. When Dr. D and his policy mechanics looked under the farm law’s hood they discovered that federal farm programs cost taxpayers $152.2 billion from 1998 to 2010.
And that doesn’t include the tens of billions of taxpayer-subsidized crop insurance to farmers over those same years.
Moreover, if the U.S had simply updated the previous farm bill’s grain reserve policies, Ray figures the federal farm bill tab for the same 13-year period would have been $56.4 billion — or a staggering $95.8 billion less than what was spent.
Why isn’t that number and Ray’s analysis key parts of the today’s rush-rush, hush-hush Farm Bill hustle? Because the hustlers, as usual, are in charge of farm bill while you and me, well, we’re the ones gettin’ hustled.
(The Farm and Food File is published weekly in more than 70 newspapers in North America. Contact Alan Guebert at www.farmandfoodfile.com.)
© 2011 ag comm