December 15, 2019

Farm Bill; Sec. Vilsack; Ag Economy; Food Safety; EPA- Climate; and Biotech

Farm Bill Issues

A recent Congressional Research Report (CRS) report (“What Is the ‘Farm Bill’?,” by Renee Johnson and Jim Monke, Dec. 10), noted at page six that, “The traditional approach to agricultural policy has been to focus on the farm commodity programs and variations of the long-standing farm safety net. The 2008 farm bill added revenue- based support to the commodity programs. In the past, counter-cyclical support was tied only to prices, but some farmers wanted payments to respond to low-yield situations even when market prices are high. The new program, called the Average Crop Revenue Election (ACRE), has been criticized as highly complex and not responsive enough to local conditions or some commodities. Participation has been lower than expected. Will the next farm bill continue the program or revise it to make it more attractive? Some would rather shift support dollars to better revenue-based crop insurance programs. Others prefer the status quo. The 2008 farm bill also added a ‘permanent’ disaster assistance program (Supplemental Revenue Assistance, SURE)—a pool of money for disasters without needing supplemental appropriations. This program also has met with mixed reviews, and continuation likely will be debated on policy and budget grounds.

Calls from some groups to reform current farm policies are often based on arguments for the need for greater equitable distribution of support within the farming sectors. Farm program critics point out that farm bill dollars are not equitably shared across the sector. Subsidies flow to a limited number of staple commodities—mainly grains, oilseeds, cotton, milk, and sugar—and not to fruits, vegetables, or livestock. Also, subsidies are proportional to production, allowing larger farms to receive more than smaller ones. Critics want to address these imbalances.”