WASHINGTON (Apr 02, 2009)—A national poll conducted by Harris Interactive two weeks ago found that nine out of 10 Americans felt it was important to grow food at home instead of relying on imports.
These results were not surprising to Larry Combest, the former Chairman of both the House Intelligence Committee and the House Agriculture Committee. But he admits the strain being placed on producers today is making it harder and harder to grow food here at home.
High risks and high farming costs, coupled with low returns, have left America with just 125,000 farms to grow three-quarters of the country’s food and fiber.
According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA), the number of farms left to feed a growing U.S. and world population is contracting, and Combest believes that is because it’s so hard to make a living at farming—a profession that is under constant attack by foreign competitors, the nation’s urban media, and a handful of opponents in the halls of Congress.
Those farms that remain, he said, are there because of improved efficiency and the farm safety net that helps insulate them from uncontrollable weather conditions and wild market swings.
But now, that farm safety net is under attack in President Obama’s proposed federal budget, and some lawmakers on the Hill that want to make the remaining 125,000 farms that produce 75% of our agricultural goods largely ineligible for federal farm benefits.
Combest said targeting the recently passed 2008 farm bill for further budget cuts is a grave mistake. Farmers already accepted a $7.4 billion reduction in the farm bill and the additional cuts being proposed wouldn’t even free up enough spending to keep AIG afloat for a month.
“Jeopardizing America’s food security for that is insane,” Combest admitted.
The bipartisan outcry from farm groups and lawmakers over proposed cuts has been swift and fierce, and Combest hopes agriculture’s opponents take note.
“If the farm bill is gutted, you will see farms go bankrupt,” he said. “That will only make things tougher for grocery shoppers and our country’s economy.”
The impact of the financial strain currently being placed on farmers is already coming into focus.
The USDA reported this week that recession-battered farmers will leave millions of acres idle this spring instead of planting as much corn, wheat, cotton, and soybeans. Decreased acreage could mean that depressed commodity prices will again go up.
“We need to protect those farmers that remain, not punish them,” Combest concluded, summarizing a famous quote from President John F. Kennedy.
“Our farmers deserve praise, not condemnation; and their efficiency should be cause for gratitude, not something for which they are penalized.”