Bush envisions changes in farm policy

WASHINGTON – American agriculture received its first peek at Bush administration farm policy objectives recently, and high on the priority list are market-oriented and environmentally-friendly policies, say Purdue University agricultural economists Wallace Tyner and Allan Gray.

The USDA has released “Food and Agricultural Policy: Taking Stock for the New Century.” The 116-page document represents Bush’s blueprint for future farm legislation, including the 2002 Farm Bill, said Tyner, head of Purdue’s Department of Agricultural Economics.

The position paper draws a clear distinction between what Bush is for and against, Tyner said.

“In terms of what they said they’re for, they had three major pieces in general, all of which they cast as components of an economic safety net,” Tyner said.

What he’s for. “Those three are environmental protection – probably encompassing some form of environmental payments or ‘green’ payments.

“Second, a system of farm savings accounts, whereby farmers would put money aside in good years that they could draw down on in bad years.

“Third, a continued reliance and continued government assistance for crop insurance and revenue insurance.”

Among the policies Bush disapproves are an array of supplemental support payments and provisions violating trade agreements, Tyner said.

What he’s against. “What they’re against is concentration of payments to large farmers or wealthy farmers,” he said.

“They’re against market distortions from policies – the Loan Deficiency Payments and even the AMTA payments can be perceived as distorting.

They’re against provisions that conflict with our trade agreements with the WTO, and they’re against all forms of supply controls and grain reserve policies which have been proposed by various parties as alternatives to what we’re doing now.”

Gray said he was surprised “Food and Agricultural Policy” did not address issues related to agribusiness mergers and corporate farming, known in the industry as horizontal and vertical integration.

Missing topics. “Something I thought was mysteriously missing from the entire piece was no talk of the concentration issues, which I thought the administration would have something to say about,” Gray said.

“They talk a lot about the infrastructure for agriculture in the United States and what it should look like, or being open to the idea of changing infrastructure.

“I’m not sure if that suggests that maybe they believe the larger-firm vertical integrated model that we appear to be moving toward is an acceptable artifact of the type of agriculture we’re in, or not.”

Until the recent terrorist attacks brought farm policy talk to a halt, Congress was moving toward a showdown on the farm bill.

Progress on farm bill. The House was about to begin debate on a 10-year bill heavy on farm subsidies. Analysts project the bill could spend upward of $170 billion.

The Senate has not crafted its bill, but leaders say they favor a scaled-down support payment program, with farmer subsidies tied to improved conservation practices – labeled “green” payments.

The Bush position as outlined in the USDA paper more closely aligns with the views of Indiana Sen. Richard Lugar and Iowa Sen. Tom Harkin, the agricultural policy leaders in the Senate, Tyner and Gray said.

“The farm savings account and the crop and revenue insurance risk management tools have been things that have been favored by Sen. Lugar for quite some time, and the environmental payments have been favored by Sen. Harkin,” Tyner said.

Afraid to spend. “I don’t think this administration is actually in favor of spending a lot of money,” Gray said. “I think they are really deathly afraid of the current farm bill that’s in the House with respect to $170 billion in spending, which is very consistent with the Senate’s way of thinking about things right now.”

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