The Not-So ‘Farm’ Farm Bill

February 5, 2009

The name “farm bill” can be pretty misleading. Most who do not follow agricultural legislation that closely just assume that all of the funding included in the “farm bill” winds up on the farm.

Not even close.

Farm programs only represent about 10% of farm bill spending. The bulk of farm bill spending is earmarked for nutrition programs and the bill’s 15 other sections, such as energy, rural development, and conservation.

And under the 2008 farm bill, farmers’ share of the pie shrank. That’s because the Commodity Title of the farm bill was the only title in the farm bill to have its budget cut. Pretty amazing considering the commodity title came in $22 billion UNDER budget during the life of the 2002 farm bill.

The budget reductions in the 2008 commodity title are a reflection of reforms in the 2008 law and the way the farm safety net is structured—most federal farm programs only kick in when commodity prices are low, so spending is minimal when prices are higher.

Among the reforms made in the 2008 Commodity Title:

  • Lawmakers reduced the maximum level of Adjusted Gross Income (AGI) that a person may earn and still receive benefits by up to 80%—this eliminates benefits for wealthy individuals who do not need them.
  • Farm program funding recipients must prove that they are active farmers, thus eliminating abuse by a few, high-profile recipients such as Scottie Pippen who have been a black eye on the entire farm bill.
  • Direct attribution of all farm program benefits to individuals is now required to ensure 100% transparency of the flow of taxpayer dollars.
  • Benefits were better directed to the men and women who actually produce the country’s food, instead of hobby farmers or landowners who happened to build a house on a small plot of old farmland.

Feeding and clothing the United States—and much of the world—is not an easy job. It requires dedication, patience, and an unyielding faith that success is achievable no matter what nature or subsidized foreign competitors throw your way.

The Commodity Title in the farm bill underpins this faith and thus keeps us all fed. That’s a pretty good deal for less than one-quarter of one percent of total federal spending.