Special Interests Still Kinda Flakey

March 12, 2010

WASHINGTON (March 12, 2010)—Special interests with no real hands-on experience on the farm are threatening the very policies that will be essential to feeding a growing world population, according to a major ag lender.

“[T]he group of people who are formulating food system policy and regulatory frameworks have expanded beyond . . . the traditional ag groups,” Cornelius Gallagher, global agribusiness executive for Bank of America, recently told attendees of the Farm Foundation’s forum on the finance and credit environment for agriculture and the food system, held in Washington, DC, on March 2.

The growing power of farm policy opponents, he said, will make it harder to predict the outcome of future farm policy, and that is dangerous.

As world populations explode, “we can’t afford to have a shock to the system that significantly reduces our productivity in any way,” he concluded. “The goal should be to improve productivity, not wreck it.”

Gallagher is not just making wild predictions, either. The 2008 farm bill was nearly upended by a powerful coalition of radical environmentalists, extreme think tanks, and groups seeking budget offsets for Washington-based pet programs.

That attack took the form of the Kind-Flake farm bill amendment. The amendment would have effectively gutted the farm safety net.

According to a Texas A&M study, “Most of the farms and ranches would not be able to survive the erosion in farm income” resulting from Kind-Flake. The agricultural community resoundingly rejected the amendment.

And since then, the coalition of farm bill opponents—including the Environmental Working Group, Oxfam, so-called think tanks, an enterprising reporter, and others—has stayed active.

DeVonna Zeug, a farmer and current president of the Minnesota Corn Growers Association, recently penned an article about these opponents’ newest target: crop insurance.

So what can America’s farmers do to stop this apparent trend?

As Bradley Lubben, an extension public policy specialist at the University of Nebraska wrote last year, “Now, more than ever, agriculture cannot afford to tune out of the public policy process…agriculture will have to work even harder to build support and maintain a voice on legislation where they have neither the primary jurisdiction nor the majority representation.”

Zeug agrees, but had this to add: “Farmers and ranchers need to form a united front and our champions in Congress must stand firm in protecting the country’s food, fuel, and fiber supply. And they must continue to educate their urban counterparts. After all, not everyone farms, but everyone eats.”