AFBF farm policy analyst
on proposal for farm bill
American Farm Bureau Federation has been working with Congress to get a farm bill going and sent a new proposal to lawmakers last week, hoping to jump-start the process.
American Farm Bureau Federation farm policy specialist Mary Kay Thatcher notes that the budget is tight and her organization is a general one that must balance the needs of various commodity producers.
But the farm bill is one that everyone in the country should take note of, she adds.
"This farm bill affects everyone. Eighty percent of the cost of the bill is feeding and nutrition programs but it also includes specialty crops, rural development, credit programs and conservation programs. So every American is affected by the farm bill."
Research shows people want to buy local and they want to support family farmers, Thatcher said, and supporting passage of a farm bill is a way to support family farmers.
Her organization is pushing for a viable safety net with some government funding to make it work. But she adds that a small investment in a safety net for U.S. farmers is nothing like some programs seen around the world.
"Some governments around the world subsidize their farmers at a much higher rate than we do here," Thatcher said.
Government support for farmers, estimated as a percent of gross farm income, in Japan is 52 percent, according to AFBF. In the European Union that figure stands at 18 percent and in Canada it's 14 percent. By comparison in the United States, it's at 8 percent.
"U.S. farmers receive a higher percent of their gross farm income from the marketplace rather than government support."
Without some kind of safety net however, U.S. farmers are forced to not only compete with the global marketplace and competitors in other parts of the world, but also with the governments of other countries that subsidize their farmers, Thatcher said.
American Farm Bureau Federation, being a general farm organization, has to approach farm policy with a balanced approach that is equitable to all commodities, she said.
Farm Bureau is proposing a three-legged safety-net program for commodity producers. Those three legs would include crop insurance and commodity loan programs and then a county revenue insurance program that would cover losses in the 75-90 percent range in the county.
Growers who don't like that third program, could have the option of participating in a typical target-price program.
Farming is affected by the vagaries of weather much more than any other industry. Last year's drought - a one-in-50-year event - is an example of what farmers face if they don't have a safety net, she said.
"Without the ability to purchase crop insurance we would have had a lot of farmers go out of business."
Without that safety net provided by crop insurance it would have been difficult for many farmers to go to their lenders and continue farming this year, she added.
"We have to have some kind of safety net for farmers to know they can continue in agriculture," she argues.
Farm Bureau has approached the farm bill knowing that Congress will be writing it with a limited budget. "We need to craft a safety net as we move forward that will pass the House and Senate."
"We will hopefully get it done very soon."
Thatcher said that she has gotten good feedback from members of Congress on the proposal.