A Wide Array of Voices Rally in Defense of the Farm Bill

March 18, 2016

It is not every day that there is widespread agreement in our nation’s Capitol, especially when it comes to budget matters. So, it is significant to highlight when such accord is demonstrably on display.

Days ago, in a show of solidarity in support of American agriculture, a diverse coalition of 252 groups sent a letter to lawmakers urging them to shield farm policy from further cuts during the upcoming appropriations process in Congress.

These groups represent a wide array of interests that includes farming, crop insurance, nutrition, conservation, finance, energy, labor, rural development, trade, equipment manufacturing, local government, forestry, and rural development. Indeed, this assorted collection of voices that represent major economic sectors across the country is indicative of the reach of American agriculture and the importance of protecting our investment in the 2014 Farm Bill.

As they wrote in the letter:

“Congress passed a bipartisan farm bill that made a significant contribution to deficit reduction. [It] was estimated to contribute $16 billion to deficit reduction over 10 years. These difficult cuts resulted from hard choices made to reform and reduce the farm safety net, conservation programs and nutrition assistance programs. Some of the reforms made in the new farm bill are still being implemented.

“We urge you to oppose any additional cuts.”

The 2014 Farm Bill was an enormous effort that spanned nearly three years, entailed 40 Congressional hearings, multiple markups and floor debates in both the House and the Senate, and a conference committee that negotiated what became the law.

The point of that painstaking effort was to provide an element of stability to a sector that is rife with uncertainty. A farm bill is a five-year promise to farmers and ranchers that there is something to rely upon when catastrophic weather and sour markets play thunder with their operations.

That’s precisely what is happening to farmers and ranchers all across the country today and why they need the farm bill to be left alone. Commodity prices and farm incomes have been in free fall through the 2014 and 2015 crop years. The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) recently warned farmers that they should not expect it to get better anytime soon. Net farm income has dropped by 56 percent over the last two years and is expected to decline even farther in 2016.

These economic factors have triggered the farm bill’s safety net for some farmers, but it is important to note that overall federal spending on agriculture remains low.

A point that the Chairman and Ranking Member of the House Agriculture Committee highlighted earlier this year in their own letter to the House Budget Committee asking to be spared cuts.

“[D]espite this economic turbulence in rural America, CBO’s January baseline projects that the Commodity Title of the farm bill is still slated to save taxpayer money relative to the repealed Direct Payment Program over the next 10 years. Had the 2014 reforms not been enacted and the 2008 Farm Bill remained in effect, the Food and Agricultural Policy Research Institute (FAPRI) estimates that farm policy spending would be $17.7 billion higher than it is today. In other words, the 2014 Farm Bill reforms are achieving far greater savings than would have been realized had the status quo under the previous farm bills been maintained.”

And, as these agricultural leaders further explain the farm bill is only “2 percent of the total federal budget, with support to farmers and ranchers under the Commodity Title and Crop Insurance constituting only 0.29 percent of the overall budget.” If Congress is going to make a real dent in deficit spending, they’re going to have to look beyond agriculture.

In the face of challenging times, farm families across the country are producing the food, feed, and fiber we all rely upon while also being the singular sector of the economy that is contributing to federal deficit reduction.

It is a spectacular story that is largely ignored or misrepresented by farm policy critics and even some lawmakers in Congress.

No wonder so many groups have joined forces to oppose any cuts to the farm bill. As the coalition concluded, the agriculture committees “have already done the hard work to make the difficult choices necessary to deliver bipartisan cuts.”

It is time for others to follow suit.