Recently, during a congressional hearing to examine the implementation of the 2014 Farm Bill, one of the witnesses recounted a story about the simple advice he received when he first started farming. An older family member, who is also a farmer, offered this: “farming is a tough life and you’re not going to make a lot of money. Good luck.”
This advice was given nearly two decades ago, but it is timeless. Farmers work at the mercy of Mother Nature, compete with trade-distorting policies of foreign governments, and must manage the vagaries of the marketplace. It is no coincidence that less than one percent of the population feeds the remainder. Farming is a tough life.
Just consider recent economic data on the farm economy. According to the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Economic Research Service, net farm income is down nearly 43 percent due to weak exports and plunging commodity markets. Farm sector debt as a percentage of assets is expected to increase three percent.
According to one index from Creighton University, February marked the 19th straight month that farm equipment sales dropped. Additionally, farmland prices decreased for the 15th straight month.
Beyond this reality, a farmer’s worries extend to policymakers in Washington who have the ability to make an already tough life worse.
This week the House and Senate Budget Committees are expected to unveil, consider, and pass their respective budget resolutions. The president already targeted agriculture in his budget proposing significant cuts to the key component of the farm safety net: crop insurance. There is chatter that legislators will likely offer similar proposals adding more anxiety to farmers and their lenders.
It’s a good time to mention that when the Agricultural Act of 2014, otherwise known as the farm bill, was enacted last February, it was estimated to save $23 billion. As former House Agriculture Committee Chairman Larry Combest (R-Tex.) pointed out in a recent columnfor The Hill, new estimates from the Congressional Budget Office released last week now predict the farm bill, which includes nutrition and farm policy, will save an additional $5 billion.
What is more incredible is the fact that the farm bill is such a tiny piece of the overall budget. The USA Today recently illustrated this point with a snapshot graphic showing where tax dollars were spent. Out of every $100 of federal spending, only 70 cents was devoted to agriculture. This figure includes more than just farm policy, such as the functions and operations of agricultural-related agencies like USDA, but regardless, just 70 cents ensures we have an affordable and secure national food supply.
Taken together, it would seem that America’s agricultural producers are the gift that keeps on giving. They produce the crops that feed, clothe, and fuel the nation and they produce the budget savings that contribute to deficit reduction.
Yet, somehow this is never enough for farm policy critics who are relentless in crying for more cuts. Let it be known, farming is a tough life and tough times are on the horizon for America’s farmers and ranchers, but they have answered the call for fiscal discipline.
In times like these, Washington should be applauding the agricultural community for the contributions it has already made, not working to make things even harder by jeopardizing the one thing farmers should be able to count on: the just-passed farm safety net.