|For the week of March 7, 2005|
Addressing Farm Bill Criticism
Farmers have always worked to grow bumper crops. They take pride in producing a bounty from the land, and those high yields can even help make up for low prices. Thats why one of the most common criticisms of the farm bill doesnt make sense.
Some say the farm bill encourages farmers to produce surplus crops. But, farmers didnt just start trying to expand their operations and increase their yields after the 2002 farm bill became law. Improving their farms and business practices is just a part of the farmers mentality.
What the farm bill does do is help offset some of the higher costs of producing those crops. Fuel, equipment, land and fertilizer are among the inputs that have become more expensive. The cost of farm inputs is outpacing the prices farmers receive for their products.
Economics 101 tells you that if the price for your widgets stays the same but the cost of the springs needed to make the widgets goes up, you can continue making widgets only so long unless you can increase your price to capture your production costs. Farmers produce crops and livestock, not widgets, and they cant pass their higher costs on to consumers. Instead, todays higher production costs eat into the farmers bottom line.
Small farmers and large ones need a positive bottom line to continue. With cuts in the farm program, there is no doubt that some farmers will close the barn doors for good and the effects will ripple through rural communities.
The real beneficiaries of the farm program are U.S. consumers. By maintaining agricultural production, the farm bill secures access to safe, affordable, domestically produced food. It ensures that Americans wont have to depend on foreign countries for their most basic need.
The farm program benefits both larger and smaller farmers because support for the bottom line is equally vital to all commodity producers. Targeting any sector of farmers for cuts does not mean additional support will be given to another sector. Such cuts only weaken the economy and the industry in general. Farmers arent competing against each other for support, and they need to stick together for the best results.
Yet another criticism is that the farm bill pays farmers not to farm. That refers to supply management programs that no longer exist programs that gave rise to the old not raising hogs joke. You know the one, where the guy writes the government to find out how much money he can get for not raising 100 hogs versus 50 hogs? Todays programs are different. Farm programs are more market oriented, and conservation programs compensate landowners for restoring wetlands and grassland when those landowners could instead make more money by farming the land or renting it out.
Farmers should defend the farm bill from these and other misconceived criticisms. And, they will be most successful in that effort if they stick together across regional, size and commodity differences.
Lynne Finnerty is editor of Farm Bureau News, a publication of the American Farm Bureau Federation.