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The Ag Agenda

June 2007

Saddlin’ Up for the 2007 Farm Bill

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

There’s an old saying in Texas that folks should stay on the horse that brung ‘em. That’s especially true when that horse has been trustworthy, dependable and worked hard for its rider. With a few minor improvements here and there, maybe a new saddle, bridle or shoes, that horse has a good many years left in it.

As Congress begins to debate farm policy that will guide the nation’s producers through the next six years or more, I want to offer this: the basic structure of the 2002 farm bill is working, and working well, not only for farmers, but for consumers and the environment. In Farm Bureau’s opinion, it’s not the time to trade horses.

Holding the Reins

Farm Bureau has laid out a comprehensive proposal for the 2007 farm bill that benefits all sectors of American agriculture, while taking into account the big challenges facing today’s producers. The proposal maintains the basic structure of the 2002 bill, as well as the balance between programs by not shifting funds between each title. It also maintains the three-legged stool of direct payments, marketing loans and a counter-cyclical safety net. The proposal continues to support strong conservation funding, but ensures that it doesn’t come at the expense of full and adequate funding for commodity programs.

Our proposal is fiscally responsible. Multi-year funding for the 2007 farm bill could potentially be $57 billion less, which is 50 percent less, than what Congress committed to spend in the current multi-year farm program. Yet, there’s still many goals to meet with funding for conservation, nutrition, commodities and disaster programs. The Farm Bureau proposal meets funding for all those goals by identifying spending cuts for any requested funding increases within a specific title of the bill.

Some critics have voiced their opposition to the current way of doing things. These folks think we should follow Europe’s agricultural model, which provides a lot of “pretty” little farms dotting its hillsides. Let me set the record straight. The Farm Bureau proposal, like the 2002 farm bill, is producer-driven. This ‘way of doing things’ allows the U.S. to be a world player in trade, which boosts our economy. In contrast, European taxpayers pay about three times as much for an agriculture system that can’t compete efficiently in a world market.

Galloping Forward

While Farm Bureau’s proposal has maintained the structure of current farm policy, we have made a few specific recommendations. An important one is the establishment of a standing catastrophic assistance program that does not duplicate the coverage offered by crop insurance. Such a program would be an improvement over the current system of requesting emergency ad hoc disaster assistance, which is not working as it should and provides highly variable levels of aid.

Farm Bureau opposes any changes in payment limitations and means testing. To be a viable, commercial farm, we must use economies of scale to justify large capital investment costs associated with farming. By reducing the current adjusted gross income cap of $2.5 million to $200,000 for farm program payment eligibility, as the administration has proposed, there could be serious consequences for the producers who actually do most of the farming.

The Farm Bureau proposal includes changes to comply with our existing agreement obligations and World Trade Organization litigation rulings, such as last year’s reforms of export credit and food aid programs, and elimination of the “Step 2” cotton program. Our proposal also includes elimination of the prohibition on planting fruits and vegetables on farm program crop acreage. However, it also maintains U.S. negotiating leverage in the ongoing Doha round by continuing strong domestic support for agriculture until a WTO agreement is reached that increases foreign market access for U.S. farmers and ranchers.

In all, Farm Bureau’s proposal has more than 60 recommendations for the future direction of U.S. farm policy. We may have made a few adjustments here and there to the tack, but we’re still riding the trusty horse that brung us.

I invite you to take a look at Farm Bureau’s proposal by visiting: http://www.fb.org/index.php?action=newsroom.farmbill2007.