The American Farm Bureau Federation has a long and proud history of carefully evaluating the economics of policy proposals in order to understand potential pitfalls and other unintended consequences. At the same time AFBF has, since its inception, had a well-defined process for determining the organization’s policy positions. Each year the organization’s delegate body of farmer and rancher members deliberates and responds to challenges facing agriculture. Following the Delegates work, the AFBF Board of Directors interprets and gives direction to AFBF staff to proceed with advocacy actions to communicate the message from farmers and ranchers to leaders in all branches of government.
With Congress moving past the opening days of debate on the next farm bill, AFBF economists will once again take up the challenge of analyzing the effects of various policy alternatives. Two recent analysis pieces look at two specific commodities – cotton and dairy – that are facing challenges in terms of the federal safety nets (Are MPP Dairy Improvements on the Way? and Cotton Coming Back in Title I?). These commodities have been subjected to considerable discussion by Farm Bureau members, as well as by AFBF’s Board of Directors.
The Congressional Budget Office’s June 2017 Baseline for Farm Programs reveals that both of these commodities, under the current Farm Bill, have very limited safety net support: 2017 to 2027 budget outlays for dairy are estimated at $839 million and for cotton these outlays are estimated at $874 million. Based on these CBO projections, program payments for cotton and dairy represent 1.5 percent and 0.18 percent of the of the farm value of these commodities, respectively.
This means that in order to provide additional support in the near term, as is being proposed in the Senate ag appropriations measure, resources will need to found and likely to also require finding 60 votes when the measure comes to the Senate floor. These political realities point to why the analysis has been done and critical to helping Farm Bureau, from the grassroots members to leadership, evaluate and determine our position and advocating from that decision.
To state it another way, the purpose of economic analysis is to help inform the membership and the leadership of Farm Bureau on the potential effects of these proposals on farmers and ranchers. It is not a Farm Bureau policy position, which is the purview of the membership and the Board. Analysis can help inform that process, but will never – should never – replace it.