Better Late Than Never

June 18, 2010

WASHINGTON (June 18, 2010)—Sometimes, it’s better to get something right late than never at all. In the case of agriculture, the time is now, and one organization is refocusing its attention in the right direction.

In a recent meeting, the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (a group of 31 wealthy, market-oriented countries) shifted its agricultural focus away from fighting farm policies and towards helping, among other things, global food security and the battle against hunger.

Why is this significant? Because, for years, the OECD put most of its agricultural muscle behind weakening farm policies in developed nations.

Now? As the demand for food has grown worldwide, the OECD’s position has evolved to the point where it recognizes just how important those developed countries will be in meeting tomorrow’s food needs.

“…[T]he group’s new research agenda seems much more likely to help advocates of greater food and fuel production than those who want to reduce farm spending,” Ken Ash, director of the OECD Trade and Agriculture Directorate, recently said to Congress Daily.

The turnaround couldn’t come at a more crucial time. One billion people are currently suffering from hunger, and experts estimate that by 2050 the need for food worldwide will double.

Yet in an Associated Press article, the CEO of Archer Daniels Midland said, if the top 15 food-producing countries consistently produced 80% of their best yields, the world could meet this need without increasing land. Of those 15 countries, the United States has among the greatest potential to feed the world.

That’s a proposition few would find troubling. And this becomes the point where America’s farm policy debate comes in.

There is significant concern for the 2012 Farm Bill and possible budget cuts. In 2008, Congress already slashed the farm safety net by more than $7 billion, and with the ballooning national debt, many fear the ’12 bill once again will be a sacrificial lamb. But as a handful of Congressmen said in a letter to President Barack Obama, gutting agriculture will do little to help the national debt—mandatory farm programs are 0.17% of the federal budget, and just 16% of mandatory outlays for the Department of Agriculture.

Complicating issues, the U.S. Department of Agriculture is preparing for the debate by taking money from the budget lawmakers have to write the bill. It proposed $6 billion in cuts to crop insurance last week.

It is the classic conundrum: The world’s population is growing, yet the one nation that will be needed to feed all the new hungry mouths is decreasing agricultural funding.

As for OECD, its research will, among other things, focus on helping advocates of greater food production. The organization has figured out that better late than never works. Perhaps its first stop can be in Washington to convince some farm policy opponents of this point before the moment passes.