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Agriculture Today

Productivity depends on farm safety net

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Lynne Finnerty
November 23, 2011 | 2,613 views | Post a comment

One size fits all -- when most shoppers see that label on clothing, it doesn’t inspire much confidence that the garment will suit them. People come in all shapes and sizes.

The same can be said of farm programs. One program cannot and does not fit all farmers. What works well for Southern cotton growers or farmers in New England is probably not the best way to help Midwestern soybean farmers or Western wheat growers get through a difficult year so they can keep putting food on market shelves. Even from one year to the next, different programs can make up stronger or weaker threads in the fabric of the food and farm safety net, depending on volatile markets and weather.

That’s why the American Farm Bureau recently sent Congress farm bill recommendations that call for a “big picture” approach -- one that maintains most current farm programs rather than depending on just one or two -- to provide a safety net for different types of farmers in all regions.

The ax has to fall somewhere, however. A congressional “super-committee” has met this fall to come up with at least $1.2 trillion in budget cuts. Every part of the federal budget is likely to be trimmed. The cuts to the farm bill, including farm, conservation, and nutrition programs, could be anywhere in the range of $10 billion to $40 billion.

Farm Bureau represents all types of farmers and ranchers in all 50 states and Puerto Rico. Unlike some groups that have called for absolutely no reductions in favored programs, Farm Bureau is taking a more practical stance. It recommends that an equal proportion, 30 percent, of the needed funding cuts be made in commodity, conservation, and nutrition programs, with another 10 percent made in the increasingly important crop insurance program.

The cuts in nutrition programs could come from administrative changes rather than program benefit cuts. The cost of administering conservation programs also could be reduced by consolidating them.

When your clothing budget gets smaller, you don’t stop buying shirts or pants altogether. You look for ways to save here and there. That’s what Farm Bureau is asking Congress to do with cuts to farm bill programs -- spread them around, but still keep everyone “covered.”

Some say farmers don’t need a safety net, because this year’s market prices are high for most commodities. But, so are production costs. Also, cotton and wheat yields are low, in some places nonexistent, because of drought in the Southern Plains. If a farmer doesn’t have a crop or livestock to sell, good prices don’t benefit him much. Through the current dual structure of risk management and income support programs, the farmer can make it through to another year, ensuring that all of us have a top-quality, stable, and economical food supply.

The farm safety net has evolved over the last seven decades. And it will continue to change, as it should -- to make farm programs work their best in today’s budget environment. However, Congress should maintain the complete suit of current farm programs. Even a thinner coat keeps you warmer than none at all.

Lynne Finnerty is the editor of FBNews, the newspaper of the American Farm Bureau Federation.

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