Back to the Future on Farm Programs
By Stewart Truelsen
Is there anything worse than gridlock in Washington, D.C.? Yes, what's worse than gridlock is what's happening to government farm programs. Farm legislation is not just stalled, it's going backwards, back to the year 1949.
Unless Congress acts soon on what was supposed to be a 1995 farm bill, the 1949 Agricultural Adjustment Act will become the law by which most major commodity programs are administered. The future of U.S. agriculture will be governed by the past.
The 1949 Act was the last major farm act without an expiration date. Subsequent farm bills merely superseded it. Now, the 1990 Farm Act has expired, and its replacement, the 1995 Farm Bill, is locked up in the budget debate.
Agriculture Secretary Dan Glickman is reluctantly ready to turn the clock back. He says he will begin implementing provisions of the '49 Act for wheat and feed grains in mid-March.
Meanwhile, there is talk of unhooking the farm bill from the stalled attempt to balance the federal budget, but can it be done it in time?
"Here we have a situation where no farm bill has passed either the House or the Senate in a separate form," says Glickman. He doubts that members of Congress can reach a quick agreement. What he knows for sure is that farmers can't wait.
"It's Mother Nature and not Uncle Sam who controls when crops should be planted. What happens in Washington does not determine what happens in the field of the farmer," adds Glickman, who addressed county Farm Bureau presidents at the American Farm Bureau annual meeting in Reno.
Farm Bureau voting delegates later adopted a resolution urging passage of a new farm bill that gives farmers more planting flexibility, while it gradually reduces farm program expenditures. They said it should be part of a balanced budget plan that includes tax relief and spending restraint.
U.S. agriculture could be poised for unprecedented success and prosperity in the years ahead. Exports are at record highs, many alternative uses are being found for farm products, and farmers are sharpening their production and marketing skills.
Farmers are anxious to turn the clock ahead and not back as would happen under the '49 Act. Glickman describes the old law as, "the exact reverse of what we need to be doing in the modern world," because, among other things, it would reduce wheat acreage by about one-fifth. The '49 Act uses a lot of concepts that are outmoded today.
One impression the budget stalement and the holding of the farm bill hostage makes on farmers is that U.S. agriculture is headed in the right direction--away from government decision-making. Glickman is right, it's Mother Nature and not Uncle Sam who should be in charge here.
Stewart Truelsen is director of broadcast services for the American Farm Bureau Federation.