FARM BILL 1.02
The Farm Bill, the Field and the Players
Ed Yowell and Fern Gale Estrow
Last month we examined the evolution of the Farm Bill, focusing particularly on the Commodity Programs and Nutrition Titles and, in the 2008 Farm Bill, initiatives supporting local and healthy food systems. This month, we will examine the field and the players that will produce the 2012 Farm Bill.
WHO’S ON FIRST?
The beginning point of a new Farm Bill is the end point of the old Farm Bill. Old programs and new initiatives will be considered, as will the cost of it all. The beginning “baseline” budget, against which the five year costs of the new Farm Bill will be measured, is, in most instances, the result of projecting the cost of the old Farm Bill through the next five years. As with its predecessors, the likely omnibus nature of the 2012 Farm Bill, in the best of political and fiscal times, will provide for give and take among the various interested players; big agriculture, small farmers, food activists, etc. In the worst of those times, it will make for “knock down, drag out” philosophical and budget wars.
The field upon which the various players will produce the 2012 Farm Bill is painted with political, fiscal, and philosophical demarcations. Players that will affect the outcome include: the 112th Congress; the national Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform (aka the Deficit Commission); the World Trade Organization, and the global food system; and us, Americans, and our food system evolution.
The 112th Congress
According to a tally by the on-line NBC News “First Read,” about 30 percent of Tea Party endorsed Congressional candidates were successful in their 2010 runs for office, accounting for about half of newly elected Representatives in the House. The 2010 Congressional elections indicate that generally the mood of the country, perhaps coalesced in the tenets of the Tea Party movement, encompasses limited federal government, fiscal conservatism (read budget cutting), and a notable anti-incumbent sentiment.
Initially, however, even Tea Party backed legislators seem reticent about taking on commodity supports and restrained in their approaches to the Supplemental Assistance Nutrition Program (SNAP - formerly known as Food Stamps). A review of the web sites of major, national Tea Party factions (Tea Party Nation, Tea Party Patriots, and Patriot Action, formerly ResistNet) reveals little “official” Tea Party policy on commodity subsidies and SNAP.
Jim DiPeso, in a December 13, 2010 article for the on-line The Daily Green entitled, “Tests for the Tea Party - Part 1 Crop Subsidies,” wrote, “Crop subsidies, as they are structured today, are the costly legacy of outdated farm policies…They ought to be a target-rich environment for Tea Party types…Senator…Rand Paul of Kentucky - whose state received nearly $1.8 billion in…subsidies between 1995 and 2009 - indulged in a bit of dancing…At first, he said he favor ‘giving welfare to business.’ Later, however, he backpedaled, claiming to be a moderate on farm subsidies and offering the consolation prize of pledging to root out waste and abuse…”
DiPeso continues, “Representative…Vicky Hartzler of Missouri - her state received more than $5.7 billion in…subsidies between 1995 and 2009 - claims that crop payments are needed to protect national security by guaranteeing the U.S. food supply. Agricultural economist Ed Lotterman says Hartzler’s view doesn’t pass the laugh test…‘Since subsidies are no longer tied to production…and since we are large net exporters of most major crops…’ Hartzler Farms received nearly $775,000 in farm subsidies between 1995 and 2000.”
Roger Bernard, in a December 27, 2010 article for on-line Ag-Web, entitled, “Tea Party Victory Will Shine Light on Ag Spending,” wrote, “…Clearly, nutrition is the largest component (of the Farm Bill) but will be the hardest to cut - not all that many lawmakers (Representatives) have farmers in their districts, but all have ‘eaters.’ And, after all, that could be a dicey argument for a lawmaker to put forward to reduce this benefit…at a time when the U.S. economy is only starting to pull out of the recession…Some suggest one option could be to shift eligibility requirements for the program to make sure that only those who truly need the benefits are receiving them. That could be ‘easier’ than some think, given that this could fall under the category of rooting out waste, fraud and abuse.”
While subsidy and nutrition budgets will be difficult to cut, “rooting out waste, fraud, and abuse,” indeed, may be in play. Regarding nutrition, this begs the question of who truly is in need and what controls address fraud and abuse while not depriving the genuinely entitled. Anti- hunger and nutrition advocates will no doubt have feelings of “Déjà vu, all over again,” as Yankee Yogi Bera might have said, remembering historical attempts to circumscribe eligibility in both Farm Bills and Child Nutrition Reauthorizations. Finally, cutting the budgets of smaller programs in other Farm Bill Titles likely will be on legislators’ short lists.
House and Senate Ag Committees
With the 2010 Congressional election, the Democratic majority in the House of Representatives won in 2008 now is a Democratic minority in 2011, causing House Committees, and Sub-committees, to be reconstituted with Republican majorities and Chairs. Democrats retained control of the Senate, and thereby will retain Senate Committee, and Sub-committee, majorities and Chairs.
The new Chair of the House Committee on Agriculture will be Frank Lucas (R-Oklahoma). While Democrats retained control of the Senate, the Chair of the Senate Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry Committee will be Senator Debbie Stabenow (D-Michigan), replacing Democratic Senator Blanche Lincoln, who did not prevail in her 2010 re-election campaign.
Representative Lucas, a veteran of the House Ag Committee, regarding his new position as Chair, was quoted in a December 8, 2010 House Agriculture Committee press release, “I will continue to be a strong voice for production agriculture and rural America…I will work to make sure we write a market-oriented, fiscally responsible (2012) farm bill that will provide America’s farmers and ranchers with the necessary tools and certainty they need to produce the safest, most affordable, most abundant food, fiber, feed and fuel supply in the history of the world.”
In another press release dated January 6, 2011, Representative Lucas is quoted, “...we have opportunities for growth. We must implement the three pending free trade agreements with Korea, Panama, and Columbia. And, we must encourage the administration to act on opening up other trade opportunities overseas for our farmers and ranchers. Foreign markets are critical to the economic viability of rural America.” Lucas concluded, “…an abundant and affordable food and fiber supply is as important to our country as national defense.”
Representative Lucas has received the American Farm Bureau Federation “Friend of Farm Bureau” award six times, the National Farmers Union “Presidential Award for Leadership” twice, as well as its “Golden Triangle Award,” and the “Staff of Life” award from the Oklahoma Wheat Commission. And, Representative Lucas has been named “Wheat Champion” by the National Association of Wheat Growers. He may be regarded as a strong supporter of commodity subsidies and global markets for American agricultural products.
According to the National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition, in a November 19, 2010 report entitled, “Specialty Crop Champion to Chair Senate Agriculture Committee,” while his predecessor was aiming for the next Farm Bill to be completed in 2011, Representative Lucas, during 2011, intends to hold hearings and educate the new Republican members of the House Agriculture Committee, targeting completion of a new Farm Bill during 2012. This timing raises the possibility of an extension, as 2012 is an election year.
Senator Stabenow, a Senate ag veteran, regarding her new position chairing the Senate Committee on Agriculture, Nutrition, and Forestry, was quoted in a November 19, 2010 Senate press release, “I am ready to lead the Senate Agriculture Committee…Not only does agriculture create jobs and feed our families…it is also helping us develop new fuels and energy sources.”
In the same press release, Jeffrey D. Armstrong, Dean of the Michigan State University College of Agriculture and Natural Resources, was quoted, “Her vision for the future of agriculture was evident in her commitment to securing new funding for specialty crop research in the last Farm Bill…She is a champion for leveraging investments in research and outreach to expand the Ag economic impact and improve the quality of life for all Americans.” Of Senator Stabenow and the 2012 Farm Bill, Jim Byrum, of the Michigan Agri-business Association said, “(the 2012 Farm Bill) is going to have a lot less farm and a whole lot of other things (such as nutrition, specialty crops, and conservation)… She has a great understanding of these things…”
According to the aforementioned National Sustainable Agriculture Coalition article, Senator Stabenow, representing the state with the second most diverse agricultural economy in the nation, behind California, has been a great proponent of specialty crops and bio-fuels. While she is expected to use her influence to strengthen Farm Bill provisions in support of fruit and vegetable growers, she has not been an adversary of commodity crop supports. In fact, of her, according to a January 11, 2011 posting on the Grainnet website entitled, “New Senate Ag Committee Chair Debbie Stabenow Speaks to Michigan Agri-Business Association,” Jim Bynum said, “She understands…letting sound science drive policies and adopting strong trade practices, (and )…insuring…a robust safety net so (American) agriculture can continue feeding the world…”
Ag Sub-committees - Food Stamps and Commodities
Jurisdiction over SNAP is held, in the Senate, by Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont), Chair of the Sub-committee on Hunger, Nutrition, and Family Farms and, in the House, by Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio), Chair of the Nutrition and Horticulture Sub-committee.
Jurisdiction over farm commodities is held, in the Senate, by Robert Casey (D-Pennsylvania), Chair of the Sub-committee on Production, Income Protection, and Price Support and, in the House, by K. Michael Conaway (R-Texas), Chair of the Sub-committee on General Farm Commodities and Risk Management.
Other notable players on House and Senate Ag Committees include, in the House, Jim McGovern (D-Massachusetts), anti-hunger advocate and co-chair of the House Hunger Caucus, and, from New York, in the Senate, Kirsten Gillibrand, who chairs one sub-committee and sits on two others, including the Sub-committee on Hunger, Nutrition, and Family Farms, and, in the House, upstate Republican Chris Gibson and Democrat Bill Owens.
House and Senate Appropriations Committees - Ag Sub-committees
Serving on Appropriations Committees, other players of importance are Agriculture Sub-committee Chairs, in the Senate, Herb Kohl (D-Wisconsin), and, in the House, Jack Kingston (R-Georgia).
The Deficit Commission
On Wednesday, December 1, 2010, the bi-partisan National Commission on Fiscal Responsibility and Reform, (aka the Deficit Commission) convened by President Obama, released its final report, entitled “The Moment of Truth,” in which recommendations to reduce the nation’s deficit are detailed.
Policy changes affecting SNAP are not recommended. Regarding governmental supports of agriculture, “The Commission… recommends $15 billion in gross reductions in mandatory agriculture programs, including: reductions in direct payments when prices exceed the cost of production or other reductions in subsidies; limits on conservation programs such as the Conservation Stewardship Program (CSP) and Environmental Quality Incentive program (EQIP); and reduced funding for the Market Access Program (MAP)."
CSP, created in 2002, provides assistance to promote conservation and improvement of soil, water, air, energy, and animal life and other conservation purposes. EQIP, created in 1996, provides assistance to promote agricultural production, (non-industrial) forest management, and environmental quality. MAP provides assistance to producers and others to market U.S. agricultural products for export. The 2008 Farm Bill included provisions to include certified organic and transitional producers in CSP and EQIP.
It is thought widely that the Deficit Commission report will provide a base for fiscal discussion during the 112th Congress.
Congress and the Three Bs - Brazil, Budget, and Baseline
In a December 9, 2010 on-line Perdue University Ag economist article entitled, “Watch three Bs in 2012 farm bill,” Jennifer Stewart wrote, “When the Republican House majority takes up the farm bill issue, farmers should expect lawmakers to focus on three major areas: Brazil, budget and baseline.”
On Brazil, she continues, “In 2009 the World Trade Organization allowed Brazil to impose sanctions against the United States after ruling U.S. cotton subsidies were illegal…In April the United States struck a…deal to send $143.3 million…in annual support to Brazilian cotton production. According to Roman Keeney, Purdue University agricultural economist, quoted in the article, “The major issue in resolving the WTO case is for the U.S. to bring its policy into compliance in the 2012 farm bill.”
A note here on subsidy programs - the 2008 Farm Bill provided three programs, not including distinct dairy and sugar programs, as follow:
Direct Payments available to producers of upland cotton (and other commodities including wheat, corn, grain sorghum, barley, oats, rice, soybeans, oilseeds, and peanuts);
Counter-cyclical Payments (CCPs), also available to producers of upland cotton (and other commodities including those covered by Direct Payments as well as dry peas, lentils, and chickpeas), whenever the effective price for the commodity is less than an established target price; and
Average Crop Revenue Election (ACRE), a new (in the 2008 Farm Bill), optional, revenue-based, counter-cyclical subsidy program, available to producers, in lieu of CCPs, that has the associated effect of reducing recipients’ Direct Payments.
In a December 10, 2010 Senate Ag Committee briefing paper entitled, “A Preview of Likely Farm Bill Deliberations in the 112th Congress,” Stephanie Mercier wrote, “(the United States) will defer consideration of cotton (subsidy) reform to (the) upcoming farm bill. If Congress changes (the) cotton (subsidy) program to reduce trade-distorting elements to comply with Brazilian demands, what does that portend for programs for other commodities?”
On Brazil and the budget, Keeney, in the aforementioned Perdue article, is quoted by Stewart, “When you consider the moderate impact of the recession on U.S. agriculture and the negative views of crop subsidies…it may be difficult for Congress to justify writing new farm legislation without reduced spending.”
In fact, Stewart writes, “price levels have been high enough that agricultural subsidy spending has been at a minimum the past three years. Annual direct payments that do not adjust with market conditions are the majority of subsidy spending and that is where legislators will need to make cuts to generate budget savings in the farm bill.” On this, Keeney is quoted again by Stewart, “after 15 years of giving out these payments, political champions to keep payments in their current form seem in short supply…The irony of this is that the fixed direct payments made to producers are, by far, the most compatible with the WTO parameters on allowable spending.”
While Farm Bills cover roughly five year periods and have five year estimated program costs associated with them, all program budgets are not created equal. Some budgets fund entitlements and some do not and some fund for five years and some do not, covering less or more time. As Congress considers the 2012 Farm Bill budget, the first wall they hit will be the two largest budgetary components, Title I Commodity Programs and Title IV Nutrition, both largely consisting of entitlements, benefits to which beneficiaries have legal rights, in these cases, agricultural supports and SNAP.
In the September 29, 2010 Congressional Research Service report entitled, “Previewing the Next Farm Bill: Unfunded and Early-Expiring Provisions,” it is reported that, “Thirty-seven programs that received mandatory funds in the 2008 Farm Bill are not assumed to continue from a budgetary perspective because they do not have budgetary baseline beyond FY 2012.” By Title, the programs, regarding local and healthy food initiatives, include:
Title IV Nutrition, Pilot Projects to Evaluate Health and Nutrition Promotion in SNAP (Food Stamps Program), Whole Grain Products (for school lunches and breakfasts), Survey of Food Purchased by School Food Authorities, and Assistance for Community Food Projects;
Title VI Rural Development, Rural Micro-entrepreneur Assistance and Value-added Agricultural Market Development;
Title X Horticulture and Organic Agriculture, Farmers’ Market Promotion; National Organic Certification Cost-share, and Organic Production and Market Data Initiatives; and
Title XIV Miscellaneous, Outreach and Technical Assistance for Socially Disadvantaged Farmers and Ranchers.
Americans and our Food System Evolution
Americans’ attitudes are changing about: the provenance, wholesomeness, and safety of the food we eat and its effect on our health; the impacts of different farming models on the people who produce our food and the environment; and the effect of a globalized food system on our food sovereignty. And, Americans are concerned about the persistence of hunger in our nation.
Provenance and Wholesomeness
While accounting for relatively small percentages of the food produced, purchased, and consumed in the United States, the number of organic farms and farmers’ markets and other means of direct farm product distribution have increased significantly. According to the USDA Economic Research Service, the number of farms in organic production increased from 9,501 in 2006 to 12,941 in 2008. During that time, the number of acres in organic production increased from 2,937,473 to 4,815,959.
According to the September, 2010 USDA on-line publication “Amber Waves,” direct sales by farmers to consumers accounts for 0.4 percent of the agricultural sector’s total sales during 2007. However, the number of farms selling directly to consumers increased by 104.7 percent between 1997 and 2007. During 2007, $1.2 billion in farm products were sold directly to consumers by 136,800 farms, or about 6 percent of all U.S. farms. Most of these farms are small, near urban concentrations, and operated by beginning farmers.
These facts point to the increasing number of Americans who are concerned about the provenance of the food they eat and the impact of its production and distribution on the environment.
The Food Safety Modernization Act, drafted in the wake of the food safety lapses of “Big Food,” including tainted spinach, peanuts, and eggs, and with regard to Americans’ increasing concern about the safety of imported food, was signed into law by President Obama in January 2011. The bill had bi-partisan support in the Lame Duck session of the 111th Congress, passing with an amendment that precluded many provisions from affecting disproportionately small producers engaged in direct, local marketing of their products. The amendment, opposed by many of the original bill’s Big Food proponents, was, to a great extent, the result of many thousands of messages sent to Congress in defense of small farmers by concerned Americans.
In an article entitled, “The USDA/DOJ Hearings Are Over, What Now?” appearing in the January 2011 Food Systems Network NYC Newsletter, Adrian Velez wrote, “On December 8, 2010, farmers, ranchers, food industry representatives…and consumer groups gathered in Washington D.C. for…the final USDA/Department of Justice public workshop to discuss competition and regulatory issues (affecting)…U.S. agriculture…”
She continues, “According to (series attendee) WhyHunger’s…Siena Christman, ‘It’s been an exciting and sobering year of listening to the strikingly similar impacts of corporate consolidation in the food system on individuals, families and communities. Farmers…feel betrayed by the corporate-owned food system...’” Velez concludes, “(In addition to hearing attendees)…240,000 signatures (were collected) calling for the Department of Justice (DOJ) and USDA to take steps to level the playing field in food and agriculture…The hearings brought greater visibility to domestic food issues and engaged an increasingly well-informed and passionate public.”
The Food Research and Action Center (FRAC), in a December 7, 2010 press release, cited results of a poll of Americans’ opinions regarding hunger;
- 80 percent of Americans believe that low-income families not being able to afford enough to eat is a very or fairly serious problem,
- 81 percent believe the President’s goal to end childhood hunger by 2015 is a very or fairly important goal,
- 74 percent say SNAP is a program that is very or fairly important, and
- 71 percent say that cutting SNAP would be the wrong way for Congress to reduce spending.
Further, according to the FRAC poll, support for SNAP and ending hunger was strong among all demographic and political groups…91 percent of Democrats, 79 percent of Independents, and 56 percent of “strong” Republicans believe that SNAP is an important program.
Another poll, conducted by Rasmussen Reports, entitled, “40 % Say Food Stamps Too Hard to Get,” was posted on the Rasmussen Reports web site on December 17, 2010. According to their poll, 40 percent of Americans think it is too “hard” to get Food Stamps, 17 percent think it is too easy to get Food Stamps, and 26 percent say the level of Food Stamp eligibility is about right.
WHAT’S ON SECOND?
Increasingly, Americans are becoming more food active, voting with their food dollars for a sustainable and just food system and making themselves heard during legislative debate on food matters. The aforementioned FRAC and Rasmussen polls indicate that we are concerned about the hunger that persists in our midst. Our emerging concerns have had effect on important federal outcomes pertaining to food and can influence the priorities and programs of the 2012 Farm Bill, even in these tough fiscal times.
During the coming months, we will invite others to pitch in their opinions on aspects of the Farm Bill; Commodities, Nutrition, Conservation, Rural Development, Trade…and how concerned New Yorkers can work towards a food system that is good for producers, eaters, our nation, and the planet.
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