Welcome to the November edition of our monthly Farm Policy Update, featuring status on the 2007 Farm Bill and the latest articles, policy reports and information.
A 2008 Farm Bill?
A disagreement over the number of amendments to include is dragging out the Senate farm bill debate. Just before the Thanksgiving recess, Senate Majority Leader Reid called for cloture—a motion to restrict debate to 30 hours and force a vote—but the motion failed, raising concern about a possible extension of the existing farm bill. Although Senate leaders continue working on an agreement, there are only two weeks of working time in December. Then the House and Senate will meet to reconcile differences in Conference Committee. Insiders predict at least four weeks are needed for Conference. Best guess on earliest date for a farm bill signing is late February.
No one knows how many or which of the 300-plus farm bill amendments Senate leaders will agree to include. Aides report an agreement to limit amendments to five to ten per side. The AFT Action Network has helped move important amendments forward to reform subsidy programs and add money to under-funded programs for farmland protection, water quality and nutrition. Stay tuned for action alerts on these important amendments:
A Slow Pace Will Not Win the Race—And Will Hurt Many Right Now
Congress' slow pace on the farm bill could have a big effect on the people and programs dependent on its passage. Farmers are making planting decisions for next year without a clear picture of the system they’ll be operating under. Delay could lead to an extension, but funding in the 2002 bill will end for many programs including the Wetlands and Grasslands Reserve Programs, and benefits will be cut for the Food Stamp program and Milk Income Loss Contract (MILC). Additionally, extension would mean back to the drawing board on the important progress we’ve made on conservation and farmland protection—$2 billion in increased funding for environmental stewardship on working farms and ranches—healthy diets, nutrition programs and subsidy reform. AFT President Ralph Grossi urges, "Let's get the farm bill to the floor so we can debate it and amend it."
People Will Eat Good Food if You Give It to Them!
The Weiser family has learned many lessons on their 200-acre farm in Los Angeles, California. To remain viable, they’ve begun selling directly to customers, chefs and through farmers' markets. Alex also promotes sustainable agriculture practices in visits to local classrooms. Efforts like the Weiser’s would be encouraged in the farm bill with more money for the Fresh Fruit and Vegetable program and support for local and organic food production and distribution. These are just a few of the important gains that would be lost if the farm bill is extended.
United States Against the World
Brazil and Canada have filed another WTO case against U.S. commodity programs suggesting future challenges against current commodity subsidy payments are likely. If successfully litigated, U.S. commodity subsidy programs could be ruled trade-distorting. This would require a serious reshaping of current U.S. commodity programs that use arbitrarily set market price triggers for determining payments. As world pressure mounts, many trade experts predict that U.S lawmakers will be forced to support new, more market oriented policy, such as the Average Crop Revenue (ACR) program—an innovative and forward looking proposal that fundamentally changes the way commodity subsidies operate.
Politics Gnawing at the Farm Bill
The St. Louis Post-Dispatch looks at the currently stalled farm bill and whether or not the logjam over amendments on the Senate floor can be broken. Senator Claire McCaskill (D-MO) is “making a case to change a system in which 40 cents of every dollar for crop insurance goes to crop insurance companies. My concern is that way too much is going into the pockets of insurance companies courtesy of the American taxpayer.” This is the Brown crop insurance amendment that AFT supports, along with the Klobuchar amendment mentioned in this Washington Post editorial, "Farm Follies."
Postponing the Farm Bill? Not a Good Idea.
AFT President Ralph Grossi told DTN (link requires subscription) it is time for the Senate to finish work on the farm bill and delaying the farm bill "does not make the process any easier." Even Time writes that extending the 2002 Farm Bill is not a good idea for farmers or consumers in their recent cover story and commentary.
Is It the Status Quo or Enough Reform?
The Free-Lance Star notes that farmers in the Chesapeake Bay watershed were promised some $500 million to limit farm field runoff that contributes to the bay’s pollution. "This is what a modern farm bill should be about. Let us hope that senators oppose it [the farm bill] not because of the reforms it provides, but because the reforms fall short. Maybe instead of banging their heads against a partisan wall…they should come up with a farm bill that makes conservation an even higher priority…and wasteful subsidies a thing of the past."
Farm Bill Isn't About Food; It's About Political Power
Two publications look at political power and the farm bill. The Tomah Journal opines, "if our diets consisted only of crops subsidized by the federal government, we would shrivel up and die. Such is the idiocy that underlies another farm bill." The Washington Post continued its "Harvesting Cash" series by investigating the all-powerful U.S. sugar lobby.