We have been taught from an early age that humans have four basic needs: food, water, clothing and shelter. Interestingly enough, it is the U.S. farm sector that provides two—food and clothing—out of those four needs.
This fact puts farming and the programs that protect farmers from adversity—the farm safety net—pretty high on this country’s priority list.
Yet farm programs account for just one-quarter of one percent of the federal budget, and some are advocating further reductions.
Though every dime we spend must be scrutinized, dollar for dollar there is not a better investment of taxpayer funds than the U.S. farm safety net.
Take the federal crop-insurance program, for example. It’s hard to think of a federal program that exacts so much benefit per dollar of federal investment. This amplification is possible because crop insurance combines the best of government and the private sector to help protect farmers from adversity and, therefore, ensure a safe, affordable, ample food supply for our citizens and the world.
In 2010, for a relatively small federal outlay combined with private money from the farmers who purchased the policies, the government was able to augment a $4 billion investment into an astounding $80 billion in liability coverage for America’s food, feed and clothing crops.
Should calamity strike our nation’s farmers in the form of weather or market drops, it’s the private sector, not the taxpayer, that would cover the cost of reimbursing the farmers for their losses and ensuring that they don’t lose their businesses because of events out of their control.
When examining the programs that put food on the tables of the workers of this country, necessary budget cuts must be smart and targeted. The pressure on the food supply is increasing incrementally every year as the world’s population creeps from nearly 7 billion now to 9.3 billion in the next few decades. That’s why Sen. Pat Roberts, R-Kan., recently urged Congress to let the Senate Agriculture Committee, and those who understand the policy issues, “do that job from a policy standpoint.”
Unfortunately, the farm safety net has been tapped several times in the recent past as the bottomless money reservoir to pay for other things, many of them not related to agriculture. In fact, all told, nearly $12.45 billion total has been cut from crop insurance in the past several years.
Agriculture leaders and Congress need to be careful when charting a course for the future of farm policy. These programs provide the basic necessities of life in addition to the economic engine that is fueling our economic recovery.
The future of any nation is inextricably linked to the future of its food supply. For that reason alone, it would be hard to justify further weakening our farm safety net.
About the author: Jerry McReynolds of Woodston, Kansas is the immediate past president of the National Association of Wheat Growers.
Editor’s note: This article appeared in the Wichita Eagle on April 24, 2011.