In a League of its Own

May 2, 2012

New York City is the fashion and financial capital of the world. Hollywood has been home to some of history’s greatest actors and agents. Detroit is known for harboring America’s auto industry, and Pittsburgh will always be able to claim that its steel helped make America.

Each industry has its place in our nation’s fabric, both figuratively and physically. But there is one industry that is unique in this way. Transcending time and place, it is as relevant to our economy today as it was 200 years ago, and it calls each state home.

U.S. agriculture is truly in a league of its own. An industry that directly affects each person on a daily basis—at least three times a day for most, and more times for many of us—agriculture picked up the slack when the rest of the economy relied on CPR from a government that’s already overextended.

Recognizing the country’s challenges and its own successes, agriculture added to its uniqueness by being arguably the only industry willing to help Washington get its financial house in order.

In recent years, agriculture has accepted more than $15 billion in funding cuts.  Considering farm policies make up just one-quarter of one percent of federal spending, that cut is a much higher percentage than other industries.  But agriculture wasn’t done and has supported proposed cuts of another $23 billion in the next Farm Bill.

Keep in mind that agriculture was already coming in under budget (yet another thing that makes it so unique).

Financial sacrifice isn’t the only way agriculture leads in Washington, either.  It largely transcends political bickering.

In 1870, you would have been hard-pressed to find a member of Congress who wouldn’t have thrown his support behind agriculture. Since 70 to 80 percent of the U.S. population was employed by the industry, it would have been political suicide to do otherwise.

Today, far fewer folks call rural America home, yet even as Congress becomes more fragmented, agriculture remains a testament to bipartisanship and was just about the only consensus builder during last year’s Super Committee exercise.

So why have so many special interests on the far left and far right set their sites on agriculture?  Maybe it is the industry’s own uniqueness that scares some.

Take crop insurance as an example, which modernized the way farm policy operated by introducing efficient private business into the equation and has become one of the industry’s top legislative priorities.

Risks in agriculture are much higher than in other businesses, whether it is unpredictable weather, volatile markets, or heavily subsidized foreign competitors.

These risks may be high, but now they are managed well. In the past, there were complaints about the inefficiencies of government and the cost that taxpayers incurred during a crisis. So in a unique collaboration, Congress and agricultural leaders turned to the private sector to improve efficiency, curb waste, and shift burden from taxpayers to private insurance companies.

The current public-private crop insurance partnership is working well and excelled in what could otherwise have been a disastrous 2011.

Yet, look at the recent calls for “reform” to the successful system by burdening it with more government.

Some want to push private industry aside and hand the reigns back to an inefficient government-run system that would shift risk exposure back to taxpayers.

Others hope to restrict some farmers’ ability to purchase coverage, leaving some cropland uninsured and picking winners and losers among the very people who feed and clothe us every day.  Still others hope to add to the mountains of paperwork and regulatory burdens already faced.

And a few extremists want America to become the first government in history to turn its back on production agriculture all together.

Luckily these attempts have been beat back so far, but attacks will only intensify.

U.S. agriculture has always been unique and, in so many ways, it’s what keeps this country going. We have the most affordable, most abundant, most available and safest food supply in the world. When agriculture has a problem, we have proved we can solve it, but if it’s not broke—don’t attempt to fix it.