NEW ORLEANS (Jan. 17, 2008)—The message coming out of the American Farm Bureau Federation’s annual conference held here this week was crystal clear: farmers have already sacrificed a lot in the farm bill and should not be the source of additional funding cuts.
The farm bills passed by the House and Senate “represent significant reform,” AFBF President Bob Stallman said at a news conference from the convention.
Among the reforms made: Closing loopholes to make it impossible for rich non-farmers to get farm payments; means testing for farmers to reduce the amount of assistance available to the larger producers and family farms; tightened limits on federal funds that growers can receive; a fully transparent system of tracking payments by directly attributing payments to individuals; and eliminating the “three-entity rule” which could theoretically be used by a few to participate in multiple entities receiving payments.
The bottom line? Farmers will receive less under the House and Senate farm bills than under the current system. No other group with an interest in the farm bill was asked to take a cut in benefits. In fact, most other groups with an interest in the farm bill saw funding increases.
“We hope the conference committee reports out a farm bill we can accept,” Stallman went on to say. “I hope the administration will sign the bill and we can move forward with implementation.”
But the administration has voiced concerns with the funding structure of the pending farm bill and even threatened a veto—talk Stallman characterized as “disappointing.”
“I have talked to a lot of farmers and I can tell you they don’t really care whether something is a budget gimmick, or closing a loophole, or providing a tax credit,” Stallman said. “They don’t really care about all the back and forth from Democrats and Republicans on those issues. What our members care about is: Are we going to have a farm bill and when are we going to know what the rules are so we can plan our planting operation?”
Stallman emphasized that with spring planting for summer crops just weeks away, farmers and their lenders need answers about the farm bill soon. He also said the farm bill should include a “three-legged” economic safety net for farmers in the form of direct payments, countercyclical support and marketing loans.
Commodity organizations have echoed this sentiment and are urging lawmakers to pass a five-year farm bill instead of a short-term extension of current law for one or two years.
These groups contend that the certainty provided by a five-year bill is essential for business planning. They also point out that likely changes in budgetary and market conditions would make writing a farm bill much more difficult after this year.
“The House and Senate farm bills both meet Farm Bureau’s need to continue that safety net,” Stallman concluded. “It will take a compromise from all parties to get it done, but we feel we have compromised a great deal from our organization’s original proposal.”