fb - voice of agriculture
July 2000

Prescriptions for Curing Farm Economy's Ills

Bob Stallman
American Farm Bureau
By Bob Stallman
President, American Farm Bureau

"Business as usual" will not provide the stability our rural sector needs. More public attention must be given to struggling farm families. Farm Bureau is working to attract and focus that attention in a manner that offers immediate hope and long-term solutions. Many positive steps have occurred. Not surprisingly, more are needed.

To address immediate concerns, your Farm Bureau worked with others in the industry to secure assistance to help us make it through the year. This financial help is necessary due to past economic and climatic adversities. Our goal as we worked for the $7.1 billion support package was to aid producers of all commodities. As a result, fruit and vegetable producers will be eligible for market-loss payments, along with the producers of traditional farm program crops.

Last month, USDA announced that 601,000 oilseed farmers will begin collecting some assistance authorized last year, about $462 million. That works out to less than $770 per farmer, not enough to calm an anxious banker. If weather conditions again adversely affect a large number of farm families, Farm Bureau will not hesitate to seek additional help.

Open Markets Offer More Profit Potential

Our financial well-being would be far better if the federal government had made more progress in fulfilling various promises made five years ago. Trade relations and regulations were to have been more favorable for U.S. agriculture; regulatory costs were to have been slashed; taxes were to have been reduced.

Expanding trade is a major goal for us. Washington insiders acknowledge that Farm Bureau members played a major role in gaining support from their representatives for granting "Permanent Normal Trade Relations" for China. The job isn't done. The Senate and the president must follow suit, soon. China offers the potential for an increased $2 billion sales of our farm goods.

Similarly, we are working to remove U.S. government-imposed sanctions from selling our farm goods to five nations. Our leaders lock us out of as much as 14 percent of the world rice market, 10 percent of the wheat market, 5 percent of the vegetable oil and barley markets and 4 percent of the corn market. Just picking up a portion of the $6 billion of ag goods purchased by the sanctioned nations would add significantly to our export totals and our income.

In addition, we urge our government officials to remain vigilant in detecting and eliminating trade barriers to our farm exports and assuring that imports are free from illegal subsidization. People in the USDA and in the Trade Representative's Office have been working diligently in this regard. Washington has filed 11 complaints with the World Trade Organization and obtained decisions favorable to U.S. agriculture, including retaliation in the beef hormone case.

External Forces Depress Income

Progress in regulatory reduction and tax reform has been less successful. Through legislative directive and court order, we aim to ensure that federal regulations are consistent with legislative authorization. There are too many examples of bureaucratic commands exceeding the intent and goal of a law. Whether it be farm practice prohibitions, alien species introduction or the elimination of safe, affordable crop protection tools, Farm Bureau is urging congress to exert the oversight necessary to rein in the overzealous.

Tax reform is moving even more slowly. The income tax, especially, has grown so complex that it may even be impossible to reform. Farm Bureau, along with many other groups and individuals, sees a need for a simpler, fairer code that encourages savings, investment and entrepreneurship. Most of our immediate attention, though, is focused on eliminating estate taxes. You and your Farm Bureau neighbors will be as instrumental in killing the death tax as you are in securing freer trade with China.

No matter what happens, the farm economy will improve. Farm and ranch families will still provide abundant, healthy, affordable food and fiber. The question is, "How many families?" It will take hard work by all of us to attain the goals we seek, in time to help us all.