ATLANTA — America’s farmers are embracing consumers like never before, but the adversaries of today’s agriculture — from overzealous regulators to those trying to split agriculture into good and bad — will also discover a new assertive attitude in farm country, according to Bob Stallman, president of the American Farm Bureau Federation.
In his annual address Jan. 9 to approximately 6,000 farmers attending AFBF’s 92nd annual meeting, Stallman said farmers are using new tools to share their personal stories like never before.
He also relayed to Farm Bureau members a new-found attitude of unity and assertiveness throughout agriculture, in part, “to counterbalance those who are hell-bent on misleading consumers.”
“Our goal is to work together to increase consumer knowledge and restore trust in our nation’s food production system,” Stallman said.
“Improving consumer trust is job one.”
Stallman outlined organizational efforts to protect farmers from regulatory challenges that threaten to “downsize American agriculture, mothball productivity and outsource our farms.”
Stallman announced AFBF will soon file suit against Environmental Protection Agency regulations aimed at the Chesapeake Bay, which include provisions that will strip power from the states and potentially affect every farm and ranch in the nation.
He said this new approach will not end with the bay, as EPA has already revealed its plan to take similar action in other watersheds across the nation, including the Mississippi River watershed.
Stallman urged Farm Bureau members to carefully consider the organization’s responsibility and “obligation” to weigh in on the country’s fiscal policy, and help find solutions.
“It will require budget cuts and those cuts will be painful,” Stallman said.
He said it is appropriate that the nation’s budget and deficit concerns drive the debate surrounding the 2012 farm bill. But he said “the historic and stabilizing role the farm program has played in American agriculture” also must be considered as the organization weighs policy options.
“As an organization that represents all regions and all production, this will be tough sledding,” Stallman said.
Farm bill driver? Deficit.
Stallman’s comments that the key issue driving debate on the 2012 farm bill in Congress will be deficit reduction, was another AFBF annual meeting speaker, Roger Bernard, news editor of Pro Farmer.
“The 2012 farm bill will be dictated by what kind of numbers the House agriculture committee is given by the budget committee.”
Bernard reminded Farm Bureau members that farm program spending is still a very small part of the federal government’s budget. He said the Agriculture Department controls just 2.15 percent of the federal budget, with 75 percent of USDA’s budget directed to nutrition programs.
Of the $924 billion 10-year funding projection for USDA, direct payments to farmers comprise just 5.3 percent of the total while commodity payments to farmers fall just short of 7 percent, according to Bernard.
“Eliminating those direct payments just doesn’t get you very far when it comes to reducing the budget deficit,” Bernard said, suggesting that Congress may tweak eligibility requirements for federal nutrition programs as a means to reduce the deficit.