False Claims by Farm Bill Critics

May 15, 2008

By: Sen. Max Baucus (D-Mont.)

Excerpt from Congressional Record May 15, 2008:

[T]oo few Americans realize how important America’s farmers and ranchers are to the economy and the security of this country.

Over the last few years, major newspapers and Washington special interest groups have been busy demeaning our Nation’s farmers and ranchers…

These attacks are disappointing to many of us who have worked hard over the years to enact successful, supportive agriculture policy.

But there is a wide gulf between the claims being made in these articles and the reality of what is going on in farm and ranch country.

The articles waver between portraying farmers and ranchers in completely opposite ways. Either the corporate businessman leaching off the Government dole or the hayseed farmer unable to compete in the market economy without a handout.

These portrayals are disappointing to me and disheartening to rural America. And they are false…

One common attack on U.S. farm policy is that it is no longer for the family farm and ranch, but rather has become corporate welfare.

But even the most basic of research quickly uncovers that today nearly all producers in America remain family farms and ranches not corporations and conglomerates. In fact, only 2.2 percent of farms are nonfamily farms.

Negative articles frequently refer to “protectionist” policies intended to shield farmers and ranchers from competition and to raise consumer prices.

One group recently stated that we should simply ignore all the subsidies and trade barriers of other countries. Unilaterally disarm our own farmers and ranchers. And then sit back and enjoy the benefits of cheaper imported food.

This makes zero sense. American consumers today spend a lower percentage of their disposable income on food than consumers anywhere else around the world. In fact, American families are the only families in the world who spend less than 10 percent of their disposable income on food.

Agriculture is also important to our economy, as became apparent earlier this decade when farmers and ranchers helped get the country through a manufacturing crisis.

Our farmers and ranchers managed this even as the average foreign tariff rate on agriculture products was and remains about 62 percent, while the United States average tariff is only around 12 percent.

President John F. Kennedy once said “the Farmer is the only man in our economy who buys everything at retail, sells everything he sells at wholesale, and pays the freight both ways.” That is true.

Farmers and ranchers are–and in my memory always have been–in the middle of a never-ending cost squeeze. For too many years we have asked our farmers and ranchers to do more and more and always with less.

So while all the negative news articles focus on the symptoms, they never seem to get around to identifying and discussing the real problems that plague our farmers and ranchers: skyrocketing costs and stagnant returns.

The next generation of farmers and ranchers, growing up all across rural America, has a more accurate view of what farming and ranching life is really about than do urban newspapers and think tanks.

They see long days in the fields, unpredictability caused by droughts, hail storms, hurricanes and floods and a low payoff at the end of the day. Too frequently, they decide it is not worth the effort to come back to the family farm.

That is one reason I was proud to champion the dependable, reliable disaster program that is included in the farm bill. It is wrong when our farmers and ranchers are forced to wait up to 3 years for a disaster payment. We can do better for our farmers, and we can do better for our taxpayers.

Farmers deserve a program and provides dependable, equitable relief when disaster strikes. Taxpayers deserve a program that requires farmers to manage their risk through crop insurance…

I want a strong agricultural economy in this country. I want a strong, homegrown source of safe, affordable, and abundant food and fiber.

I believe this farm bill will strengthen our farm economy…

(Sen. Max Baucus. Congressional Record. 5/15/08. p. S4216-S4217).